Originally created 12/01/99

Economy hurt by poor jobs



COLUMBIA -- South Carolina has received poor to failing grades in a new study of economic indicators.

In its 1999 Development Report Card for the States, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a Washington-based think tank, gave the state a C for performance, a D for business vitality and an F for development capacity.

The performance rating comes from the group's analysis of wages and wage growth, long-term job growth, income distribution and quality-of-life factors.

"Part of the state performance can be attributed to favorable employment conditions, including good long-term employment growth, low unemployment and relatively few mass layoffs," the report said of South Carolina. "On the other hand, the quality of jobs that people have is less than ideal, with poor average pay and slow average pay growth."

Donna Dewitt, president of the state AFL-CIO, agreed.

"I've said it for years -- we live in an environment where we don't even have a minimum wage in South Carolina," Ms. Dewitt said. "It's a very, very tender subject for me."

Helen Munnerlyn, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Commerce Department, said the state is actively trying to attract higher-paying jobs.

"One of the strategies that we've always looked at to encourage the financial wealth of every citizen in South Carolina is to recruit good jobs," Ms. Munnerlyn said. "The problems of studies like this is that they don't look at where we've been in the past. We try to bring in more high-paying jobs so that more of our citizens can get those better salaries."

But Ms. Dewitt said some even trumpet the state's low wages when trying to attract companies to South Carolina. She pointed to a Charleston-area Web site that touts the state's high worker productivity, low union membership and low wages and says wages in the Lowcountry run 20 percent below the national average.

U.S. Commerce Department statistics show per capita income in South Carolina in 1998 was $18,789, or 18.5 percent below the national average of $23,059.

"I don't think people in a city like Charleston, as beautiful as it is, should be getting paid less -- especially 20 percent less -- than the national average," Ms. Dewitt said.

To get the business vitality grade, the Corporation for Enterprise Development analyzes factors such as economic diversity, new business growth and company closings.

To evaluate development capacity, the group looks at literacy and graduation rates, bank deposits and loans, households with computers, and state highways and infrastructure.

The report card "has some of the pieces right," Ms. Munnerlyn said, but fails to show long-term improvement in areas such as wages. U.S. Commerce Department statistics show individual wages increased in South Carolina from $378 per week in 1990 to $501 per week in 1998, she said.

Shortcomings in factors such as graduation rates and infant mortality show little change from year to year, but Gov. Jim Hodges' emphasis on education should bring improvement in those areas, Ms. Munnerlyn said.

Last year's report, released in July, brought criticism from Mr. Hodges, who at the time was running for governor against incumbent David Beasley. The state last year received a B for business vitality, a C for performance and an F for development capacity.

"I believe if a child brought those grades home from school, parents wouldn't be very happy," said Tim Shock, then a spokesman for Mr. Hodges.

Nina Brook, spokeswoman for Mr. Hodges, said this year's report card shows there is room for improvement. But she added the governor's and the Commerce Department's efforts are on track.