Originally created 01/22/06

Progress coming, but at slow pace



COLUMBIA - Rising unemployment, failing schools, increasing health care costs, high poverty rates.

That, in reality, is the state of the state of South Carolina, local lawmakers and residents said last week, after Gov. Mark Sanford's State of the State address Wednesday.

Everyone acknowledges that South Carolina is facing significant issues, and the solutions aren't always clear.

"We've got a lot of improvement to do, and we need to get beyond words," said Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken.

By some measures, the situation in South Carolina appears bleak.

- In 2004, South Carolinians' per-capita disposable personal income was $24,712. That ranked 44th in the country, according to the state's Budget and Control Board.

- In November, the state's unemployment rate increased to 7.1 percent, the third-highest in the country and only lower than hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi.

Dana Yow, the communications director for the Education Oversight Committee, said South Carolina also habitually ranks poorly against other states in high school dropout rates and SAT performance, though she adds that state-to-state comparisons are not always fair.

Bluffton Today bloggers say the Legislature and governor need to curtail government and taxes, improve education and economic development, and somehow address illegal immigration.

The problem is that all these issues feed into one another, said Mark Tompkins, a public policy expert who teaches at the University of South Carolina.

Businesses leave South Carolina or locate somewhere else where they can find a better-educated work force, Mr. Tomkins said. So people either make low wages or don't work at all, and the state doesn't have the economic base necessary to take in enough revenue to improve schools so that people can get better educated, thereby attracting businesses to the state.

"Part of the problem is we're a changing economy," said Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken.

As manufacturing and textile jobs move to other states and other countries, South Carolina must adapt, he said.

CHANGE MIGHT be slow, but some point to signs that it's there.

The Education Oversight Committee, a nonpartisan group appointed by the governor and Legislature, aims to position South Carolina in the top half of states by 2010, based on a variety of factors - including graduation and dropout rates, national and state assessments, and SAT and ACT scores.

"Right now, we feel we are not on track to meet our goal," Ms. Yow said. She said, though, there is hope.

SAT and ACT scores remain below the national average. But in the past five years, South Carolinians' SAT scores have jumped 27 points, versus an average increase nationally of 9 points over that same time frame, she said.

Economic development, experts say, also comes in stages.

The governor's budget proposal includes an $11.5 million boost for the Department of Commerce in hopes of bringing more jobs to the state.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.