Originally created 04/01/04

S.C. jobless rate fourth-highest in nation

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina had the nation's fourth-highest unemployment rate in February at 6.3 percent, the U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday.

The rate, little changed from a revised 6.2 percent in January, is expected to stay high for a while, a Clemson University economist said. The national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in February.

While the jobless rate was improved from 6.5 percent in February 2003, manufacturing lost 11,800 jobs during the period, the state Employment Security Commission reported.

"Some of the manufacturing jobs will come back," Clemson economics professor Bobby McCormick said. "It's just not going to be in the same numbers."

McCormick said since South Carolina is a smaller state, it "has felt this decline in manufacturing employment in its core industries more than its neighbors - and probably will for some time."

The job losses point to the need to reduce the state's income tax and focus more on emerging industries, said Will Folks, spokesman for Republican Gov. Mark Sanford. "We need to continue to focus on base manufacturing jobs, but in the post-NAFTA environment ... you clearly have to expand your focus," Folks said.

U.S. Senate candidate Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat, also said tax relief for manufacturers was needed to stop the flow of jobs overseas.

But, McCormick said jobs likely are gone for good and workers will have to look to other areas for future careers. Recovery, he said, "depends upon the will of our citizens to realize that these job losses are permanent" and pursue education and look to high-end tourism jobs.

Marlboro County had the highest unemployment rate in February at 20.5 percent. Lexington County had the lowest with 3.1 percent.


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