South Carolina Job Woes Continue

Weakness persists …

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South Carolina’s labor participation rate held at near record low levels once again during the month of May, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Meanwhile it’s unemployment rate – a more widely watched but less comprehensive indicator of joblessness – ticked upward.

These unwelcome employment developments came as the Palmetto State’s “Republican” supermajority approved a massive $40.2 billion budget loaded to the gills with pork barrel spending – and precious little in the way of tax relief.

Oh, and absolutely nothing in the way of reforming the state’s anti-competitive, overly litigious tort climate.

“This is not a conservative budget,” state representative Jordan Pace said last week in outlining the objections of the S.C. Freedom Caucus to this fiscally liberal spending plan.



The need to rethink priorities is strong in South Carolina, where labor participation remained stuck at 57.2 percent last month, per the BLS.  That’s just barely above a revised record low of 57 percent recorded between August and November of 2022 – and is part of a continued, decades-long erosion of the workforce.

The Palmetto State was tied with Kentucky and New Mexico for the third-worst labor participation rate in America in May – ahead of only Mississippi (53.8 percent) and West Virginia (55.1 percent). Nationally, labor participation dipped 0.2 percent to 62.5 percent.

As she does every month, our inimitable research director Jenn Wood has been charting the trend lines for those of you who are visually inclined …

For those of you keeping score at home, there were an estimated 2,490,135 people in the state’s labor force during the month of May (+5,892) – including 2,406,502 who were gainfully employed (+2,052) and 83,633 who were unemployed but actively looking for work (+3,851). That latter number caused the unemployment rate to climb 0.2 percent to 3.4 percent – its highest reading since November of 2021.

While the uptick in unemployment is concerning in the short term, my media outlet is far more concerned by the long-term languishing of labor participation. Why? Because unlike the widely watched unemployment rate –  which tracks a segment of workers within the labor force – labor participation tracks the size of the workforce itself. It is, therefore, a far better indicator of the extent to which people are gainfully employed … or, as is too often the case in South Carolina, not.

South Carolina’s workforce has steadily eroded in the years since “Republican” rule began – falling from its peak of 68.5 percent recorded right around the time the GOP takeover of state government began. Labor participation has not eclipsed the key 60 percent demarcation line since May 2012, former governor Nikki Haley’s second full year in office. When Haley left office in January 2017, labor participation in the South Carolina had plunged all the way down to 58.2 percent.



(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.



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Jane Brewer Top fan July 1, 2024 at 6:20 am

Is this number of employed out of total population? With our high number of retirees in SC that would skew things.

CongareeCatfish Top fan July 1, 2024 at 12:12 pm

While I agree that the total workforce is an important factor to examine – I tire of FITS never taking the extra step of explaining in detail WHY it is so important and they never bring on anyone with expertise who will discuss all the various economic factors that effect the rate. It’s such a wasted opportunity to teach the average joe more about how these economic numbers and stats are comprised, and teach them how not to be manipulated by those who lie via cherry-picked statistics [recall Truman’s famous line about lies & statistics].
But there is also a common sense, 50kft level observation that is always relevant. If there isn’t massive homelessness, property theft crime and widespread hunger among the non-retiree population, but only a larger share of people living at or slightly above the poverty line, then a big factor to consider is whether the so-called safety net of our socialist- based welfare programs has instead become a hammock for those who hate working more than they love the upward mobility and respectability of hard honest work. its the debate that has lasted down through decades- mostly since LBJ’s great Society program initiation. Anyone really interested in this topic should go back and read the statements made by Democrats on the floor of Congress back in the 19602 expounding how these new welfare programs were going to eradicate poverty within a generation in this Country. What a farce that was.


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