Unemployment numbers show slight improvement in Horry Co.

Horry County, SC - HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Those in the market for a job are getting some positive economic news Friday, as statewide unemployment rates point towards a slight improvement in Horry County.

While South Carolina's jobless rate holds steady at 12.5 percent, February's numbers dropped 1 percent to 15.3 percent. Despite the improvement, a big question remains in the minds of many: Are businesses seeing enough improvement to increase hiring?

For the president of Jayco Construction, the advancement of a number of construction projects along the Grand Strand means he could soon help put the unemployed back to work.

"We are seeing plans come out. We are seeing plans being brought through our office and we've been talking to engineers in the area. There are jobs out for bid right now," said President Wes Lovell.

Lovell says the construction industry has been one of the hardest hit amidst the recession, but he's hoping plans for construction will help ease the blows of unemployment.

"You have to hire them and tell them that it's going to be a temporary job," Lovell commented. "If things work out, we'll keep you on. If not, then we'll have to lay [them] back off because right now, there's no consistency in the market."

Officials with the Coastal Workforce Center in Conway say 60 construction jobs are up for grabs in Horry County, in addition to positions at a new Conway nursing home and a cleaning service. However, they say they're seeing an uptick in the number of people walking through the center's doors and asking for an extension of their unemployment benefits.

Coastal Carolina University Economist Don Schunk says for all of 2009, total employment statewide fell by 5.5 percent, and while job losses have slowed, the state continues to wait for new hiring to begin.

"The economy continues to be characterized by high levels of excess capacity — in housing, commercial and office space, industrial production and retail activity," he said. "This excess capacity suggests that the economy can begin to grow — and it is — but without the need for new construction, expansions or substantial hiring.

"Perhaps even more troubling, however, is that even if South Carolina began to see job growth return immediately at historically normal rates of growth, it could be 2015 before we returned to the level of employment reached in early 2008," he added.

Schunk noted that February's report is the best since the recession began, and the state's unemployment rate held steady even with some growth in the labor force.

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