South Carolina residents continued to return to work in February, while a growing labor force kept the state’s unemployment rate steady.
The unemployment figure held steady at 3.5% last month, according to a March 25 report by the SC Department of Jobs and Manpower. The national rate was 3.8%, down from 4% in January.
Monthly data, adjusted for seasonal factors, showed about 3,400 South Carolina residents who had been classified as unemployed returned to work in February. This brought the number of workers employed to around 2.3 million, up 49,000 from the previous year.
“It was a good report for South Carolina,” said Sonya Waddell, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va.
Overall, Palmetto State employers added 17,500 positions across all industry categories last month, excluding farms. That was a considerable jump from 10,400 in January.
Almost all job categories reported hiring increases last month. The strongest gains were in the professional and business services category, which had 7,100 jobs in February and more than 8,300 from a year earlier.
Waddell said this is positive for South Carolina’s economy since this industry accounts for about 14% of the state’s total employment. Most of the increases were in the highest-paying scientific and technical services fields.
The public sector added 2,700 jobs, mostly at the state level.
Other growth sectors included leisure and hospitality, up 2,200 jobs after a gain of 4,700 in January, while the general trade, transport and utilities category added 2,000 workers. Education and health services increased by 1,600 and manufacturers hired 1,000 employees.
The only drop came in the information industry, which lost 700 jobs in February.
The statewide labor force, defined as the number of residents who are working or actively seeking work, has increased by 3,822 since January to nearly 2.38 million.
Meanwhile, South Carolina’s still weak labor force participation rate saw a modest gain of a tenth of a point to 57.2%. Although small, the increase was “encouraging”, Waddell said, but was slightly lower than the February 2020 figure.
DEW Director Dan Ellzey said the state has made progress on the jobs front since the pandemic, with about 46,000 more employees working last month than 12 months earlier, though it added that the demand for labor remains high. About 112,000 jobs are open statewide, he said.
This week, his agency announced the launch of a new task force that will examine ways to increase labor force participation in South Carolina. The panel met for the first time earlier this month.