South Carolina Workforce: Holding Pattern

Jobs momentum stalls …

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After an impressive start to the year, South Carolina’s workforce hasn’t grown for the past three months … but it hasn’t shrunk either. Labor participation in the Palmetto State stayed stuck at 57 percent during the month of October – same as it was in September and August.

Nationally, labor participation retreated by 0.1 percent last month to 62.7 percent, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The latest numbers put South Carolina’s workforce in a holding pattern after years of steady declines – and after a surprise, sustained spike to start the first eight months of 2023.  From February to August, this critical employment indicator rose by 1.2 percent after hitting a record low of 55.8 percent in December and January.

Take a look at the trend lines courtesy of this infographic from our amazingly intrepid (intrepidly amazing?) research director Jenn Wood

The 2023 uptick marked a “significant and rapid increase for an indicator that moves very slowly and incrementally over time,” I previously noted.  I also pointed out these advancements were attained without a corresponding spike in unemployment – meaning these new labor force entrants are being added to payrolls, not the unemployment line.

As was the case last month, though, South Carolina was tied with Alabama for the third worst reading in the entire nation. Only West Virginia (55.2 percent) and Mississippi (53.9 percent) fared worse.

That’s bad company … we can’t deny.

For those of you new to our media outlet, you may be wondering why we focus on labor participation as opposed to the widely watched (and much discussed) unemployment rate. That’s easy: Labor participation is the most important jobs metric. Unlike the unemployment rate – which tracks a segment of workers within the labor force – labor participation tracks the size of the workforce itself. That makes it a far better indicator of the extent to which people are gainfully employed … or in South Carolina, not.

That means you should probably pay attention to these numbers rather than just accepting the pre-packaged, regurgitated pablum spouted by politicians and their mainstream media mouthpieces.



For those of you keeping score at home, there were an estimated 2,465,014 people in the state’s labor force in August – including 2,393,128 who were gainfully employed and 71,886 who were unemployed but actively looking for work. Those numbers weren’t enough to move the labor participation rate – nor did they impact the political number, with unemployment remaining at 2.9 percent (its lowest reading since February 2020).

As previously noted, “Republican” leaders have presided over the Palmetto State’s steady employment collapse over the past thirty-plus years. To wit: Labor participation was humming along as high as 68.5 percent when the GOP began its takeover of state government in the early 1990s. Now it is struggling to get back to the 60 percent demarcation line … which it last achieved in May 2012 early in the first term of former governor Nikki Haley.

So much Haley’s 2024 presidential pitch that she was America’s “Jobs governor” – or her supporters’ insistence that she’s the “only candidate” who can fix our nation’s economic woes.

 The numbers tell a different story. A sadly familiar one for the so-called party of “less government and lower taxes.”



Will Folks (Dylan Nolan)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.



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