Unemployment rate edges up statewide, down in Beaufort County

South Carolina's jobless rate increased slightly during September as the size of the state's labor force reached its lowest level in a year, the agency that calculates the figures said Wednesday.

In Beaufort County, the rate decreased slightly, 8.8 percent to 8.7 percent, from August to September -- mostly as a result of a small increase in the number of service industry jobs, said Marjorie Thomas, area director for the Beaufort Workforce Center.

But she said construction and real estate employment, a main driver of the local economy, has not improved.

"Anything having to do with construction and housing, we're not seeing the upturn yet," Thomas said. "Of course, that's been a mainstay for Beaufort County for a long time, and we were hoping to see a faster upturn there."

South Carolina posted an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent in September, according to the Employment Security Commission. That was a slight rise from the August rate of 11.4 percent.

South Carolina's unemployment rate is the fifth-highest in the country, behind Michigan's 15.3, Nevada's 13.3, Rhode Island's 13.0 and California's 12.2.

Nationally, unemployment for September was 9.8 percent, a 26-year high. The national rate is expected to top 10 percent this year. Economists predict it will rise as high as 10.5 percent by the middle of next year before slowly drifting down.

A U.S. Labor Department report found that unemployment rose in 23 states last month. Although layoffs have slowed, companies remain reluctant to hire.

In South Carolina, government jobs increased by 17,200 in September, as students began their first full month back in school. There also were gains in business services and health care, increases partially offset by losses in hospitality, construction and manufacturing.

Allendale County, traditionally home to the state's highest unemployment, again ranked at the top with 22.5 percent, an increase of nearly a point from the month before. Lexington County posted the state's lowest jobless rate, at 8.3 percent.The news came as state lawmakers prepare to return to the Capitol next week for debate that could provide some relief to thousands of out-of-work residents. More than 113,000 people in South Carolina already have exhausted state and federal regular and extended benefits.

Legislators needed to pass a technical change in state law to keep an extra seven weeks of emergency benefits flowing. Because they didn't, 6,700 workers exhausted benefits last Saturday, prompting calls for the legislature to return and fix the problem.

In Beaufort County, benefits for 105 workers ended last week, said Thomas, of the Beaufort Workforce Center. Any potential change to state law to allow for benefits to be extended will "definitely affect a lot of folks in Beaufort County," Thomas said.

South Carolina was the only state that needed to make the change that didn't, according to the National Employment Law Project in New York.

S.C. lawmakers return to Columbia for a one-day session Tuesday.