South Carolina economy treads slowly compared to U.S. in March

State adds 4,700 jobs, but nation up 916,000


"Positive yet rather anemic growth" compared to the U.S. overall were the first words a Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond economist used to describe the most recent trend in South Carolina's economy.

Laura Ullrich, the central bank's regional economist for the Carolinas, based in Charlotte, provided the analysis of the Palmetto State's official March employment report from the U.S. Department of Labor on a Friday conference call with a few media outlets, including The Sumter Item.

After U.S. job growth accelerated in March with the addition of 916,000 jobs, South Carolina added just a small share, or 4,700 jobs, for the month. To shape the perspective, 1.45% of all U.S. jobs are in the state, but South Carolina's monthly employment growth only represented 0.5% of total U.S. growth for March.

Most state business sectors had gains for the month, including headline gains in construction (+1,800) and trade, transportation and utilities (+1,600). Manufacturing also added 1,000 jobs, and financial activities increased by 600 jobs.

Sectors losing jobs included private education/health care (-600), information (-300) and government (-100). The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and hotels, was flat when removing seasonal variations.

"Good months," "bad months" and "normal months" for employment have somewhat been redefined in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began a little more than a year ago, Ullrich said.

Compared to just before the pandemic, or February 2020, South Carolina is still down 78,700 jobs, or 3.6%.

"So, if you are only adding back 5,000 jobs a month," Ullrich said, "that's going to take quite a while. I wouldn't say there is like a normal bar we need to hit necessarily, it's just the less we add every month, then the longer it takes to get back to peak employment."

Two business sectors in South Carolina have completely recovered and also gained jobs since the pandemic began. Construction lost 5,300 jobs last spring in the state, but it has gained back 6,300 jobs for 118% recovery. Trade, transportation and utilities lost 38,600 jobs but has increased 42,300 jobs since then for 110% recovery.

Several sectors are only down at most a few percentage points since pre-pandemic levels to include professional and business services, financial activities, private education/health care and manufacturing.

Leisure and hospitality is the "outlier," though, Ullrich said. It lost an "unbelievable" 125,700 jobs in the worst part of the pandemic last year, she said. The sector has gained back 88,000 jobs, but that is only a 70% recovery.

It is important to mention, in the national perspective, South Carolina has outpaced the U.S. in the recovery, Ullrich added. The U.S. overall has had a net loss of 8.5 million jobs since peak employment in February 2020.

In a separate survey report released Friday, South Carolina's unemployment rate decreased from 5.2% in February to 5.1% in March. Locally, Sumter County's unemployment rate was 5.5%. Clarendon County stood at 5.9%, and Lee had the highest area jobless rate at 6.4%.

The monthly national rate declined to 6%. A broad measure of U.S. unemployment to include individuals marginally attached to the labor force, plus people working only part time for economic reasons, was 10.9%. At peak employment in February 2020, it was 7.4%, Ullrich said.