COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Unemployment in South Carolina fell in March for the second month in a row, as the state added thousands of hospitality jobs in preparation for its busy tourist season, state officials said Friday.
The state's jobless rate was 8.4 percent last month, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce. That's a 0.2 percentage point drop from February, when South Carolina unemployment was 8.6 percent.
Jobless rates fell in all 46 of the state's counties. Unemployment was highest in Marion County, at 16.2 percent. Lexington County marked South Carolina's lowest figure, at 6.0 percent.
National unemployment also fell last month, from 7.7 percent to 7.6 percent. South Carolina's jobless rate was tied with Georgia for 11th-highest in the country. Nevada's unemployment was the nation's highest at 9.7 percent.
The state's labor force dropped slightly, to 2,175,091, officials said. But over the last month, South Carolina gained nearly 10,000 leisure and hospitality jobs as the state prepared for its summer tourist season. That industry, which does $15 billion in annual business in South Carolina, has grown by more than 11,000 jobs since this time last year.
Earlier this month, state figures showed tourism as South Carolina's fastest-growing industry in terms of new jobs, with more than 212,000 workers statewide — more than 5 percent higher than a year ago.
Over the last month, South Carolina also marked gains in professional and business services and government sectors, which both grew by more than 2,000 jobs each.
Several sectors shrank over the last month, with construction, education and health services and information each posting 400 in job losses.
South Carolina's workforce agency has had a tumultuous year thus far. Earlier this month, interim director John Finan said the agency would lay off 100 employees in June as part of a statewide reorganization that directs anyone seeking jobless benefits to use its upgraded online system. Finan said the department would eliminate one-on-one help with unemployment claims, and the number of local offices offering job training and other re-employment services will shrink.
That announcement came two months after the ending of in-person unemployment help at 17 rural offices caused a backlash from legislators. Democrats particularly denounced the move as an attack on rural South Carolina, and the outrage culminated in the resignation of former Director Abraham Turner.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
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