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SC unemployment falls to lowest rate in 5 years

Meg Kinnard, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina's unemployment dropped to its lowest rate in five years in April, state officials said Friday, a drop they attributed in part to increased hiring in preparation for the state's multi-billion-dollar summer tourist season.

The state's jobless rate fell to 8 percent in April, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce. That's the lowest unemployment rate in South Carolina since October 2008 and was tied with California and New York for the largest month-to-month decrease, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state's peak unemployment rate was 12 percent in November 2009. The workforce agency said the drop from 8.4 percent in March represents the state's largest month-to-month decrease since May 1987.

"Our outstanding companies, our loyal and dedicated workforce, and our competitive business environment have our economy turning again," Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement hailing the decline. "There's no doubt that South Carolina is on the move, and we couldn't be more excited about the great things in store for our state."

From March to April, the number of employed people in South Carolina increased by 2,935 to nearly 2 million. Around 174,000 people were unemployed, according to the state workforce agency.

National unemployment went down slightly in April, to 7.5 percent. South Carolina tied with Oregon and Tennessee for the 10th-highest unemployment in the country. Nevada had the nation's highest jobless rate, at 9.6 percent.

In South Carolina last month, professional and business services and construction jobs went up by 4,000. Trade, transportation and utilities jobs grew by 2,300. The state's manufacturing industry reported a loss of 900 jobs as employment in both durable and non-durable goods fell.

The biggest gains came in South Carolina's leisure and hospitality sector, which grew by 8,700 as the state continued to prepare for its busy summer tourist season. The state agency said most of those new hires were in accommodation and food services.

Tourism spending in South Carolina reached a record $16.5 billion in 2011, according to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and the industry appears to continue to grow. Last summer's PGA championship on Kiawah Island had an estimated impact of $92 million and brought worldwide publicity for the state.

South Carolina State Parks had record revenues of $21 million last fiscal year. Last fall, Charleston was named the top tourist destination in the world by readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

In addition, the state tourism department this year launched a $2.5 million advertising campaign to attract visitors to what it is calling undiscovered South Carolina.

Jobless rates fell in all of South Carolina's 46 counties in April. Unemployment was highest in Marion County, at 15 percent. Lexington County had the state's lowest jobless rate, at 5.7 percent.


Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP