|By Trevor Anderson, Spartanburg
Herald-Journal, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 23, 2010--South Carolina's unemployment rate hit a record 12.6 percent in December, led by job losses in the tourism industry.
The jobless figures released by the state Employment Security Commission on Friday were up from November's 12.3 percent rate and came despite fewer people actively looking for work.
"December's labor force levels were the lowest since September 2008, and we have seen unemployment reach record levels in South Carolina," said Sam Davis, commission interim executive director, in a statement. "A net increase in private sector job creation is our No. 1 public policy problem, and a net increase in private job creation will be pivotal in reversing the trend in state's unemployment rate."
The national jobless rate remained at 10 percent in December. South Carolina's rate was the fourth-highest in the country behind Michigan (14.6 percent), Nevada (13 percent) and Rhode Island (12.9 percent).
The economic picture in Spartanburg County continued to worsen, with unemployment reaching 12.7 percent last month, an increase of 0.3 percent compared to November.
Demetria Fernanders, area director of the commission's Spartanburg Workforce Center, said her office began to see signs in December that the local job market is improving despite the uptick in unemployment.
"We had 544 job openings and were able to place about 400 people," she said. "Things are going to get better."
Union County's rate jumped five-tenths of a percentage point to 21.7 percent. The county has the fourth-highest jobless rate in the state.
"Union County is following the statewide and national trends in unemployment," said Irvin Goodwin, assistant area director of the commission's Union Workforce Center. "We're continuing to hold onto hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to hang in there and continue to place individuals in jobs the best we can."
Cherokee County's rate remained flat at 16.8 percent.
In total, 6,720 people left the labor force. Meanwhile, job losses continued to mount, with 5,200 lost in the leisure and hospitality sector and 4,000 in business and professional services. Manufacturing continued to contract, with 800 more people claiming unemployment in that industry.
There were a couple of bright spots, as state retailers hired 700 people and the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector picked up 1,000.
Allendale and Marion counties had the highest rates of 23.6 percent and 22.6 percent respectively, with Marion County's joblessness up by 1.4 percentage points from November. Lexington County posted the lowest rate at 8.7 percent.
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