State adds more than 7,000 jobs in May

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South Carolina experienced its best month so far this year for job growth during May, but a lack of available skilled labor is curtailing that growth from being larger, according to a regional economist.

Rick Kaglic, senior economist with the Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, made his comments Friday after the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce released two monthly employment reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to a payroll employment report from BLS, the state added 7,600 jobs in May after averaging just 700 per month for the first four months of 2017. Kaglic said it was the first positive reading for the Palmetto State since January.

He said the job growth in May is in line with other data that he regularly monitors for the state. According to Kaglic, the bank's Carolinas Business Activity Index has been very robust in 2017 and is showing some of its highest readings in many years.

"While businesses are telling us that activity is picking up, they also continue to suggest that they are hiring -- or at least trying to hire," Kaglic said. "So, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before we saw this bounce back in employment growth in the state, and we finally did get it in May."

He says job growth in the state this year is "relatively tepid" in comparison to 2015 and 2016. May's S.C. employment growth brought the monthly average to about 2,000 jobs per month. Kaglic said for last year the state averaged adding 3,000 jobs a month.

He attributes the slower growth to a lack of an available pool of skilled labor. A very low unemployment rate currently in S.C., 4.1 percent in May, attests to what he says. By definition, to be considered unemployed, an individual must be without work and also actively searching for work. If a person is without a job and not searching for employment, technically he/she is not considered unemployed and not factored into the unemployment rate.

Kaglic said he forecasts similar soft growth to continue in the state because of the lack of labor availability.

While, state payroll employment has increased by 32,700 in the last year, local employment doesn't seem to be fairing as well. According to the payroll employment report, Sumter County had a net loss of 400 jobs from May 2016 to May 2017. Report data is not available for smaller counties, such as Clarendon and Lee counties.

A second report released Friday, the Local Area Unemployment Statistics report for May, confirms Kaglic's comments on labor force to the tri-county region. That report shows Sumter County's labor force is down 499 people since May 2016 to 43,854. In the same time frame, Clarendon County's labor force has fallen by 234 to 12,837, and Lee County's has slid by 58 people to 6,476 in May.

That same report generates county unemployment rates. Sumter's rate for May was 4.6 percent. Clarendon stood at 4.9 percent, and Lee at 5.1 percent. The state's average unemployment rate for the month was 4.1; while the U.S. average was 4.3 percent.