Originally created 03/09/06

State downplays joblessness



COLUMBIA - New state Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor says he has seen the state's economic engine humming in his first four days on the job.

And the state's chief economic developer wants to talk about job growth instead of joblessness, just like the man who appointed him, Gov. Mark Sanford.

At a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Taylor underscored that 99,781 jobs have been created between January 2003, when Mr. Sanford took office, and December 2005. And he noted that the typical job the state economic development agency now creates pays 45 percent more than the jobs the state is losing.

"That's 100,000 jobs created in our state in the last three years. That's absolutely stunning," Mr. Taylor said. "Talk about going in the right direction. This ship is pointed in the right direction."

But in this election year, much political attention is being paid to unemployment numbers.

With revisions to account for population and other factors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the state's jobless rate has been at 7.2 percent since October. The December rate was enough to make South Carolina's unemployment the nation's second highest, behind only Mississippi as it recovers from Hurricane Katrina.

Bureau of Labor Statistics reports show the state has had the highest jobless rate since 1995 for 33 of Mr. Sanford's months in office. The governor downplays the jobless figures.

"Maybe unemployment is one barometer, but it's not the only barometer," he said.

South Carolina "has been at the front of the pack relative to other states in the country on the number of jobs created on a net basis," he said.

One "of the things we've got to focus on as a state," Mr. Sanford said, "is to not just look at unemployment, but to look at the actual number of jobs created."

For instance, Massachusetts has a lower unemployment rate, but it has lost 18,000 jobs in the past three years. North Carolina has a lower jobless rate, but South Carolina has created more jobs, Mr. Sanford said.

In fact, Mr. Sanford says his administration has created more jobs than any of his three predecessors'. The governor also questions the accuracy of the state's jobless figures.

"We are the only state in the union that ... does not require businesses of 20 employees or fewer to report their numbers," he said.

There "are some legitimate questions on how you get to the unemployment number you get to."

Unemployment



States with the highest jobless rates in December (figures are preliminary):

Mississippi: 9.9 percent

South Carolina: 7 percent

Alaska: 6.9 percent

Michigan: 6.7 percent

Louisiana: 6.4 percent



Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics