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CCU economist Schunk releases analysis of S.C. labor market data

March 12, 2008

January 2008 data on employment and unemployment for South Carolina were released March 11 by the South Carolina Employment Security Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Highlights from January data:

• South Carolina's unemployment rate edged down in January. The state's jobless rate declined from 6.2 percent in December to 6.1 percent in January. This slight drop suggests the state's economy has been holding up relatively well despite a number of negative factors currently affecting national conditions.

• Total job growth across the state is trending lower; however, January saw widespread gains in terms of seasonally adjusted growth. As of January, total job growth over the last 12 months for the state was 1.4 percent, or a net gain of 27,600 jobs. The current rate of job growth is down from the summer of 2007 when the state was adding jobs at more than a 3 percent pace. While the overall trend has been for slower growth, the state turned in a solid performance in January with the net addition of 8,800 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis. These gains were fairly widespread, with January job gains reported in trade, transportation and utilities, professional and business services, education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and government. The job growth for South Carolina in January is in contrast to the national economy which posted a loss of 22,000 jobs for the month.

• Most metro areas posted solid year-over-year job growth in January. Of the seven metro areas for which data are reported, only 1 posted a decline in total employment. Anderson saw a 1.4 percent drop in jobs since January 2007. The remaining 6 metro areas all posted job growth faster than the state average, including Florence (5.9 percent), Greenville (3.4 percent), Charleston (2.8 percent), Columbia (2.5 percent), Myrtle Beach (2.4 percent) and Spartanburg (1.5 percent).

Revisions to 2007 Data: Every March, with the release of January data, the S.C. Employment Security Commission also releases revisions to previously published estimates, some of the noteworthy revisions for 2007 include:

• South Carolina's economy grew more quickly in 2007 than was previously thought. The preliminary estimates had suggested South Carolina posted job growth of about 1.5 percent for all of 2007. However, the state's job counts were revised upward and job growth for all of 2007 now appears to have been 2.2 percent. Overall, the upward revision to employment in 2007 amounted to roughly an additional 20,000 jobs statewide. Meanwhile, the data revisions - as is typically the case - also smoothed out the fluctuations in the state's jobless rate. While the state's jobless rate on average for 2007 wasn't significantly revised, the often large month-to-month changes were smoothed out. Overall, this serves as a reminder to users of the monthly unemployment figures that the numbers can be volatile, and are often later revised such that the initial month-to-month changes in unemployment and employment are not as important as the underlying trends in the data.

Looking ahead:

The January labor market data, along with the revisions to last year's numbers, are fairly positive, suggesting the state's economy continues to grow. However, a great deal of economic uncertainty remains, and the outlook calls for slower job growth statewide in the months to come. I do expect the state's economic growth to pick up during the latter half of 2008 as the lagged effects of recent monetary and fiscal policy actions are felt. In the meantime, the weak dollar should continue to be beneficial to South Carolina - a state that relies heavily on foreign direct investment, exports and tourism.