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Economist Schunk presents overview of S.C. labor markets for March

April 16, 2010

The following report is an overview by Don Schunk, research economist at Coastal Carolina University, of employment/unemployment data for March 2010 released today by the South Carolina Employment Security Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Highlights from March 2010 data:

South Carolinas unemployment rate fell to 12.2% in March from a revised 12.4% in February. This decrease in the states jobless rate in March was supported by positive trends: while the size of the labor force fell by 980, the number of officially unemployed individuals dropped by 5,687. Therefore, total household employment increased by about 4,700 on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Recall that the jobless rate can fall due to either: discouraged workers dropping out of the labor force, or increases in employment. Unlike assorted unemployment rate declines in 2009, this months drop was due primarily to job growth as opposed to a wave of discouraged workers.

Total employment is down by about 0.8% between March 2009 and March 2010. The number of jobs statewide is down by about 15,300 over the last 12 months. The year-over-year declines in employment have steadily dissipated in recent months. Looking at year-over-year changes in employment is useful for gauging the magnitude of losses during a recession or the pace of growth during an expansion. However, when we are trying to pinpoint a turning point for the economy, we need to also consider the month-to-month changes in employment. Through this lens, a welcomed positive trend is emerging: on a seasonally-adjusted basis, South Carolina has now posted five consecutive months of net job gains. Since hitting a bottom in October 2009, South Carolina has added an average of about 2,500 jobs each of the past five months. If the state continues to add jobs at this pace, it will be mid-2014 before the state recovers all of the jobs lost during the recession.

The strength and sustainability of this recovery are still highly uncertain. Many headwinds remain for job growth in the young recovery. Residential and commercial construction is not going to provide the boost normally seen during an economic recovery. Continued high unemployment and underemployment will restrain consumer spending. The state and local budget crises across the state will likely weigh on government employment through at least 2011.

One way to gauge the strength of the recovery is to track the current pace of job growth relative to the two most recent recoveries. The accompanying graph shows the trend in total S.C. employment since January 2008 including the bottom that was apparently reached in October 2009. Also included are two job recovery benchmarks: one traces the pace of job growth during the recovery in the early 1990s, the other does the same for the recovery of the early 2000s. This allows us to compare the recent job gains with the gains posted during these previous recoveries. The pace of job growth of the past five months, while positive, has been slightly slower than the job gains posted during the first five months of the previous two recoveries. We will continue to track the recovery in this way each month.

For additional information, contact: Don Schunk, research economist, at, 843-655-0995 or 843-349-2485.