AUG. 3, 2012 -- Huzzah! South Carolina is just as good as North Carolina!
South Carolina has not equaled North Carolina in education, progressive politics, or the most important index -- college basketball. But it has in unemployment rates, according to federal and state labor statistics.
In May, for the first time in what seems like forever -- something that one academic deemed “historic” -- South Carolina actually had a lower unemployment rate than did the Great North State.
But before any party planners get revved up, the party poopers need to get a word in. South Carolina has since drawn even with North Carolina at 9.4 percent unemployment in June. And South Carolina’s rate was only marginally better for a mere month, and is still higher than the national average of 8.2 percent. And while South Carolina’s unemployment rate has dropped from tied for third-worst in the country last year, it is now tied with North Carolina for fifth worst.
John Connaughton, an endowed professor of economics at UNC-Charlotte and the director of one of that Tarheel state’s leading economic forecasts, said the reason for the “historic” change wasn’t necessarily what South Carolina was doing right, but more what North Carolina wasn’t doing very well.
Connaughton praised South Carolina’s “aggressive” courting of outside business and economic development. He said North Carolina had not done as good a job at economic development as its neighbor to the south.
He added that residents of North Carolina have yet to realize how bad their state fared “in the recession and in the recovery” over the past four years. He said most of the jobs lost from Manteo to Murphy have been in manufacturing and construction.
“Those jobs show no immediate signs of coming back,” he said.
Connaughton, reflecting on the mild reversals of fortunes, said he was surprised that North Carolina’s economic situation hadn’t become more of a “story” across his state.
Burnie Maybank, a major player in the South Carolina’s economic development since he was Gov. Carroll Campbell’s economic point man, also had high praise for the job South Carolina has done in the face of economic adversity.
Maybank said it’s impressive that South Carolina’s unemployment rate has dropped as much as it has since its peak two years ago of close to 12 percent, considering that the state remains one of the most desirable relocation destinations, ranking as high as third on at least one study.
Maybank also pointed out that unemployment rates may have been helped by immigration reform with many illegal migrant workers returning to their home countries, unable to find work on farms or construction sites across the region.
Maybank, former director of the state Department of Revenue, said some counties have “underemployment” rates, where qualified workers are taking jobs normally reserved for teenagers, because of economic realities.
South Carolina’s “underemployment” rate currently stands at close to 17 percent, according to federal statistics, and factors in workers who, for instance, would normally work full-time but are forced to accept part-time jobs.
More work to be done
There is grim news on South Carolina’s horizon. A recent report stated the number of jobs listed online has dropped across the state. Also, the federal government has put the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce on a watch for slow payment for first-time unemployment benefits recipients.
Gov. Nikki Haley made her campaign mantra “Jobs, jobs, jobs” before coming into office in January 2011. And so far, there have been impressive gains, according to observers, with special note of “white buffalos,” like Boeing in the Charleston area.
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said today that the governor and her administration “focused from day one on bringing jobs to every part of South Carolina - - and the results speak for themselves: over 25,000 jobs have been announced since she took office. “
But, Godfrey said, Haley “knows there’s more work to do. She’s going to continue fighting to bring jobs to every part of South Carolina and lift up those counties and rural areas that have sometimes been overlooked.”
But how many jobs can the governor claim responsibility for, considering that all of the states in the region have followed roughly similar unemployment rate trajectories? And that the surge in hiring actually began, according to federal numbers, back in 2010, a year before she took office?
Maybank said that governors, like the president, “can only do so much,” because the overall economies are so large and complex. But, Maybank said, her administration’s focus on landing job-rich distribution centers and manufacturing has been a good decision.
Crystal ball: With South Carolina’s unemployment increasing at summer’s end, many are worried that economists’ forecasts for a rosier autumn may be too rosy. What needs to happen is that Haley and her crew need to keep fighting for jobs, the legislature needs to keep giving the appropriate agencies the tools (read: money) to bring those jobs to the state, and residents need to realize that while the worst may be over, it’s not going to get a lot better for a while -- and won’t if everyone isn’t on the same page. That being said, we’re equal with North Carolina and better for a month. Huzzah!
Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.