Unemployment in Beaufort County sinks to lowest since 2008, but will it last?

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMay 20, 2013 

  • County's unemployment rate under state rate

    Beaufort County posted the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in South Carolina for April and is below the statewide rate, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. The statewide, seasonally adjusted rate, which does not factor in seasonal hiring trends, is at 8 percent, its lowest point since 2008. The rate fell 0.4 percentage points decrease between April and March, the largest month-to-month decrease since May 1987.

The unemployment rate in Beaufort County is below the state average and fell last month to its lowest level since September 2008, according to S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce data.

That's probably to be expected as the tourism and hospitality industries ramp up for peak season -- in fact, spring has boasted the lowest levels of unemployment in the county every year since 2009. The leisure and hospitality industry grew by 8,700 jobs statewide in April, leading the state in hiring for the third consecutive month, according to the department.

But hiring in those industries will always be cyclical, according to Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Charlie Clark. Indeed, unemployment typically rises again by summer's end.

So it remains to be seen if the county employment has truly turned a corner.

Clark is hopeful that it has. Summer spending by visitors who are arriving in greater number -- 68,000 more to Hilton Head in 2012 than 2011, according to the chamber -- injects money into the local economy that fuels year-over-year growth, she notes. The county's unemployment rate was 1.3 percentage points lower this past April than in 2012 and 2.3 points lower than in April 2011, according to the state employment department.

Lorain Tascoe-Bey, an employment specialist at Goodwill's Beaufort Job Link Center, says unemployed people are slowly finding work, and they're not all seasonal.

"I think it's not just tourism," said Tascoe-Bey, whose center helps the unemployed workers compose resumes and complete online job applications. "Businesses are starting and hiring more people ... than they did two or three years ago."

Most of the jobs the center helps place are retail, warehouse or day-labor work, she said.

Despite an optimistic outlook, uncertainty remains a feature of northern Beaufort County's employoment terrain, too. The area's three military bases could face fallout from $85 billion in federal budget cuts, known as sequestration.

Furloughs could affect hundreds of civilian employees at the bases, according to the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1951. Such pay cuts from one of Beaufort's largest employers would likely affect far more than just the pocketbooks of the workers, said Jaime Dailey-Vergara, spokesperson for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"Obviously, every business and industry would be impacted," she said. "If your paycheck is a lot lower, you're probably not going to go out to eat as much."

Capt. Jordan Cochran, public affairs officer at Marine Air Station Beaufort, said no furloughs had been issued yet. Information about whether the bases had hired or laid off workers recently was not immediately available Tuesday.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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