COVID-19 has put 515K out of work across S.C.


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Another week amid the pandemic and tens of thousands more South Carolinians joined the ranks of the unemployed.

A total of 29,446 residents who both live and work in South Carolina submitted new unemployment applications for the week ending Saturday, according to a state Department of Employment and Workforce release on Thursday. That total is down 3,067 from the prior week when 32,513 first-time claimants filed and represents five consecutive weeks of declines in initial state jobless claims.

Totals have decreased each week since a record-high 87,686 applications were filed for the week ending April 11 but are still well-above levels from before the public health crisis, when the state agency was averaging weekly about 2,000 new filers.

During the last nine weeks, more than half a million state residents - 515,595 - have applied for unemployment insurance, according to state data. That total represents about 22% of the state's estimated 2.33 million workers just before the coronavirus pandemic began to grip the economy in mid-March. However, the data doesn't capture thousands of people who have started to go back to work in the last few weeks as businesses have reopened. Those businesses may not have brought back their full staffs because many were advised to still maintain social-distancing guidelines and limit store occupancy.

U.S. Department of Labor data also released Thursday shows at least about 55% of the nine-week total, 284,116 state residents, were still unemployed and seeking benefits through Saturday.

Before the pandemic, the number of unemployed residents in the state was about 62,000, according to the March employment report from the agency.

State agency Executive Director Dan Ellzey said building the economy back up will take a wholesale effort.

"We are prepared to help both employers and claimants navigate the unemployment system during and as they transition back to work," he said. "These are trying times, and it will take an all hands-on-deck approach from every single resident to reboot our state's economy."

This morning, the state agency will release its April employment report, which will be the first monthly report to show the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state's workforce. The March report, calculated from household surveys from about March 12, estimated there were 61,898 unemployed residents in South Carolina. The March unemployment rate was 2.6%.

The U.S. unemployment rate for April was released May 8 and was 14.7%, up from 4.4% from March.

University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen told The Sumter Item on Thursday that he expects the state's April unemployment rate release today will be between 10% and 15%.

He said the top two industries impacted by layoffs have been leisure and hospitality, to include restaurants and hotels, and manufacturing.

Von Nessen added he expects tourism-dependent Horry County, home of Myrtle Beach, to have the highest unemployment of the state's 46 counties.