COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina added almost 16,000 jobs in March, dropping the state's jobless rate to 12.2 percent.
The Employment Security Commission said Friday that March's rate was down from a revised 12.4 percent in February.
The national jobless rate in March was unchanged from February at 9.7 percent.
The state's overall labor force shrank by almost 1,000 jobs, but the number of people unemployed and actively seeking work dropped by more than 5,600. Coastal Carolina University economist Don Schunk says the jobless rate can fall due to discouraged workers dropping out of the labor force or increases in employment.
"Unlike assorted unemployment rate declines in 2009, this month's drop was due primarily to job growth, as opposed to a wave of discourage workers," noted Schunk in his monthly analysis of the state's labor markets.
Every sector except manufacturing showed job gains for the month, but the state still had about 15,000 fewer jobs in March than it did a year earlier.
"We are encouraged by the improvement we have seen over the past couple of months; however, the state's economy remains fragile," said Samuel R. Foster, interim executive director of the South Carolina Employment Security Commission. "We have a ways to go before we can feel confident that unemployment is on a path to sustained recovery."
Schunk says the gains are a positive sign, but the year-to-year comparison shows how far the state has to go before it fully recovers. Analysts note that since hitting rock bottom in October 2009, South Carolina has added an average of about 2,500 jobs each of the past five months.
"If the state continues to add jobs at this pace, it will be mid-2014 before the state recovers all of the jobs lost during the recession," he said. "The strength and sustainability of this recovery is still highly uncertain. Many headwinds remain for job growth."
Schunk says state and local budget crises across the Palmetto state will also weigh down government employment through at least 2011.
Unemployment Rates Ranked by County
Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.