Unemployment Rate Edged Higher in South Carolina in December, But Payrolls Rose Again
The labor market situation continued to improve in South Carolina as 2012 came to a close. Payroll employment increased materially in December, even as the unemployment rate edged up during the month. Meanwhile, our Carolinas Survey of Business Activity suggests that firms in the region remain reluctant to add workers early in 2013.
Payroll employment in South Carolina swelled by a seasonally adjusted 5,300 net jobs in December. This increase brought the net gain in the last four months to more than 32,000 jobs. Private sector employment was up an even stronger 7,700 positions in December. Within the private sector, the most prominent increase was in the large trade, transportation, and utilities industry, which added a net 2,900 jobs in December. The rise was a welcome development for an industry that had not seen a notable increase in at least five months. Leisure and hospitality firms added 1,600 net new jobs in December on top of the roughly 2,700 created in November. This segment lost jobs more or less steadily in the first half of the year, but bounced back and ended 2012 with five straight monthly gains, which left industry employment 3.3 percent higher than a year earlier. More modest gains were reported for December in construction (900 jobs) and manufacturing (100).
Despite the relatively robust job gains overall, some of the Palmetto State's industries struggled as the year came to an end. The government sector, for example, lost about 2,400 jobs in December, with the decline equally split between state and local government. In addition, employment in professional and business services was flat.
Over the past 12 months, payroll employment in South Carolina increased 2.1 percent, which compares favorably to the nationwide average of 1.4 percent. Within the state, six of the eight metropolitan statistical areas saw net job gains over the past year, with the most robust growth coming in the Spartanburg, Florence, Charleston, and Columbia regions. Spartanburg benefitted from strong job creation in both goods-producing industries (particularly manufacturing) and service-providing industries. By contrast, the Myrtle Beach and Sumter metro areas lost jobs since December 2011.
South Carolina's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose in December, albeit slightly. The official unemployment rate inched up to 8.4 percent from 8.3 percent in November. The month-to-month increase in the unemployment rate is not a concern for at least two reasons. The first reason is the strong gains in payroll employment toward the end of the year. Nonfarm employment increased an average of nearly 8,000 per month during the last four months of the year, a good indicator that hiring remained robust during the period. The second reason is that the increase in the unemployment rate, which is based on a different survey (a survey of households), resulted from an increase in labor force participation rather than a decline in jobs. Indeed, employment was up according to the household survey in December, but the size of the labor force increased faster.