States hit double digits

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WASHINGTON --- A growing number of states suffered double-digit unemployment rates in January -- including South Carolina -- and others are close behind, buttressing fears that the national jobless rate could hit 10 percent by year's end.

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Aiken resident Sandy Strom (left) fills out unemployment paperwork with the help of Bettina Johnson, a program assistant at the South Carolina Employment Security Commission in Aiken. The state's jobless rate is now at its highest level in nearly 26 years.  Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Aiken resident Sandy Strom (left) fills out unemployment paperwork with the help of Bettina Johnson, a program assistant at the South Carolina Employment Security Commission in Aiken. The state's jobless rate is now at its highest level in nearly 26 years.

South Carolina reported its unemployment rate shot to 10.4 percent, the second-highest in the nation behind Michigan and its highest in nearly 26 years. A record 227,986 people were jobless and all but 11 of the state's 46 counties had double-digit unemployment, according to the state Employment Security Commission. Even those home to the largest cities had rates above the national average of 7.6 percent for that month.

Across the nation, jobless rates rose in 49 states and the District of Columbia in January. Only Louisiana recorded a drop. About 5.1 million people are drawing state unemployment insurance, the federal government said last week.

Joblessness was worst in the West and Midwest, where the loss of manufacturing, construction, retail and other jobs tied to the collapsed housing market was especially severe.

In December, only Michigan had a double-digit jobless rate. One month later, California, South Carolina and Rhode Island had joined in.

The employment commission reported South Carolina had 42,800 fewer jobs in January compared with December, when the rate was 8.8 percent. About 135,000 residents are collecting about $20 million weekly in jobless benefits, officials said.

Gov. Mark Sanford said growth in the state's labor force is to blame, though the commission's data indicated that the labor force contracted.

"We're sixth now in the United States of America in labor force growth. And what that means in practical terms is that one can load up the family and the U-Haul in Michigan or Massachusetts or a whole host of other states, say 'There's no economic opportunity. I'm outta here. I'm headed to a state like South Carolina,' " the governor said. "You've got to look at the numbers behind the numbers in how we get to where we are."

DOUBLE DIGITS

Three other states -- California, Michigan and Rhode Island -- registered double-digit unemployment rates in January.

- Industrial product manufacturer Crane Co. will consolidate its North American vending operations into its Dixie-Narco facility in Barnwell County, which has the potential to increase employment by 1,000 over the next five years. Crane Co. will invest about $20 million in the Williston, S.C., facility to increase operations. The vending machine production facility already employs 500 people. Hiring should begin within the next 14 months, according to the company.

- Aiken County, with 8.5 percent, had the fourth-lowest unemployment rate for January among the states' 46 counties. Edgefield County had the seventh lowest at 9.1 percent. Rural Allendale County had the highest rate, with 23.4 percent. Lexington County registered the lowest with 7.5 percent -- the only one clocking in below the national average for January.

-- Staff and wire reports


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