Economist: Jobless rate paints ominous picture

The ranks of South Carolina’s unemployed grew in December as the jobless rate grew to a record 12.6 percent. The Employment Security Commission figures released Friday show a rise in the jobless rate from November’s 12.3 percent. The commission noted that the rise occurred despite fewer people actively looking for work and that is an ominous sign says Coastal Carolina University Research Economist Dr. Donald Schunk.
“If you look at the middle of 2009, for example, we saw the state’s labor force declining, people were giving up looking for work, and that actually kept a lid on our unemployment rate at that time.  But now what we’ve seen is a very disturbing trend in that people are still giving up looking for work because of a lack of opportunities and if anything there has been an acceleration in job loses between November and December. That is a very troubling sign for this economy right now and moving forward.”
The biggest job loses came in the leisure and hospitality industry as 5200 fewer people were employed. The manufacturing sector lost 800 jobs.
Schunk says as for now actual job creation in the state is at a virtual standstill. “We have an economy that right now is just not capable of generating significant job growth. We’re still losing jobs and that is causing people that have been out of work for a long time in South Carolina are giving up looking for work. Remember there are people who can get unemployment benefits lasting for almost two years depending on their situation. Those long term unemployed individuals are getting to the  point where they are giving up because there are simply no prospects out there.”
Schunk says many of those who have given up looking for jobs are realizing that they need to enhance or sharpen their present skills or acquire new skills, and to that end many are going back to school. “Along the coast here in the Myrtle Beach area we’ve got Coastal Carolina University, Horry-Georgetown Technical College which are posting very large increases in enrollment so you are definitely seeing that trend. People are realizing that there is not only a recession going on, but the economy is continuing to change in very fundamental structural ways that are going to demand different skills in the future.”
Schunk says it is always great news for South Carolina when a major industry like Boeing decides to move into the state because it gives the state’s economy a definite boost. However, Schunk says the question must be asked will a majority of the workforce for a new industry be made up of locals or will the bulk of those jobs go to persons who move from outside the state, including those that relocate with the company? “If its locals that are getting those jobs, then not only do we have job growth, but we also have improvements in our unemployment rates. But if people are moving into the state to take advantage of those jobs, then that doesn’t help out overall unemployment situation. it helps to boost job growth and income growth and tax revenue growth and other things like that, but it is not helping the fundamental underlying problem of long term structural unemployment in the state.”
Schunk says a concerted effort must be made to attract business and industry in the state that matches up with the job skills that the out of work persons already possess.”
Schunk says for a state as geographically small as South Carolina , there are tremendous disparities between metropolitan and rural areas in terms of skills of the labor force, transportation issues, and other areas. Schunk says South Carolina for years has had a solid focus on developing job opportunities in the metropolitan areas, however for the most part the rural areas have been neglected. “For a lot of the rural areas of South Carolina almost any job is going to benefit those areas. When it comes to economic growth in Columbia, for example, we need to focus on bringing in high paying jobs, we need to focus on different kinds of jobs for the future, but when you are talking about counties in South Carolina that are approaching 25 percent in terms of unemployment, almost any job you can get into that county is going to benefit that county and we can’t lose sight of that.”
Schunk says the state needs to have a greater focus on developing economic opportunities and creating jobs in the rural areas if the overall employment picture and the overall economy is to make significant improvement in the future.