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South Carolina unemployment falls to 5.5 percent in March, marks 10th straight monthly decline

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina's unemployment rate continued a nearly yearlong decline last month, falling for the 10th month in a row, state officials said Friday.

The state's jobless rate was 5.5 percent in March, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce. That's down from 5.7 percent in February and is the lowest South Carolina's statewide unemployment has been since March 2008.

State officials said that South Carolina employment reached a historic high in March, with the number of employed people in South Carolina last month just over 2 million, according to the Workforce Department. In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley hailed the numbers as good news, pointing out that the state's jobless rate was 10.5 percent just over three years ago.

"Dropping our unemployment rate a full five points since January 2011 says a lot about our state and the hardworking people who make it their home," Haley said.

But according to the Board of Economic Advisors, the falling unemployment rate is partly explained by people dropping out of the labor force, not an overall improvement in the state's economic picture.

The percentage of working-age people in South Carolina who have a job — including part-time — is actually going down, economist Robert Martin told the board on Thursday. South Carolina's labor force participation rate has steadily shrunk since mid-2013, according to his charts, using data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

"People are dropping out of the labor force for a number of reasons. What happens to the unemployment rate? It comes down and comes down fast," he said.

Reasons include people retiring and being replaced by technology, he said.

In anticipation of the summer tourist season, leisure and hospitality jobs were up by 800 last month, and that sector has grown by 9,200 jobs in the last year. Professional and business services jobs also increased by 3,900 last month, while construction jobs were up by 2,500.

Unemployment was down in 21 of South Carolina's 46 counties — most of which traditionally mark the highest jobless figures across the state — while four counties were unchanged. Many of the counties that have the lowest unemployment in the state saw joblessness increases over the last month.

Marion County had South Carolina's highest jobless figure last month, at 10.4 percent. Unemployment was lowest in Lexington County, at 4.2 percent.

Nationally, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent in March.


Seanna Adcox in Columbia contributed to this report. Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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