Unemployment may be low in Beaufort and surrounding counties but the overall labor force itself is beginning to shrink, according to data from the Lowcountry Council of Governments that mirrors a national trend.
Unemployment in Beaufort County was at 4.5 percent in October, the same as September and as ten years ago, before the recession drove local unemployment rates as high as 9.7 percent, according to LCOG figures released Wednesday. Statewide, the unemployment rate fell from 4.9 to 4.7 percent in October — and was much lower than a decade ago, when 6.6 percent of South Carolina’s potential workers were jobless.
Still, Beaufort County’s labor force shrunk by 5 percent between July and October, from about 72,900 people to 69,000. It shrunk by 1,115 between September and October alone, likely due to business closures on Hilton Head Island following Hurricane Matthew, says LCOG planning director Ginnie Kozak.
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Jasper County’s labor force also decreased nearly 5 percent, from about 12,000 in July to 11,400 in October.
Nationwide, “unemployment rates are the lowest in many years, but the number of people employed has actually decreased,” Kozak said. “This is because the labor force is shrinking — here and elsewhere — as increasing numbers of people are retiring. With the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, that number will keep growing, with the result that there will likely be a shortage of labor, particularly among skilled workers.”
That, Kozak said, will in turn put pressure on employees to pay workers more.