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Thursday, January 9, 2014
Out of the 1.3 million Americans who lost their federal unemployment benefits about a week ago, about 12,900 South Carolinians were affected, and 496 of those individuals live in Aiken County.
But the blow of this bad news may be slightly softened by the fact that the unemployment rate in South Carolina dropped by 1.5 percent within the last year, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce’s November report.
The state’s unemployment rate was last recorded at 7.1 percent in November, which is the closest that South Carolina has come to the national average since 2002, according to the report. The national unemployment rate was last recorded at 7 percent in November.
Aiken County saw a small decrease from 7.4 percent to 6.7 percent in its unemployment numbers in the last year. The highest unemployment rate the County has seen since the recession began was in 2009 when it peaked at 9.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to USC Aiken Dean of the School of Business Administration Clifton Jones, there are two contributing factors to the dropping unemployment rate – one that’s a bit encouraging and one that’s disheartening. He said both factors probably apply to the economic situation around the country.
Jones said the economy is improving somewhat, and there has been some economic growth occurring across the nation.
But the labor force, which is used to calculate the unemployment rate, only includes those who are working or actively seeking a job. Jones said that over the years, there’s been an increasing number of frustrated job seekers who have given up on finding work, which could be affecting the unemployment numbers.
“The lower unemployment rate is a good thing, but we can’t forget about those folks who have become discouraged by their employment opportunities, and are not longer counted as unemployed,” Jones said.
The current labor force in Aiken County is 75,135 as of November. That’s down from the 77,720 people who made up the County’s labor force in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The labor force does include residents who commute outside the county in which they reside for work.
The Aiken County job market
Aiken County has experienced a pretty frenetic year in 2013 as some places like the Savannah River Site announced layoffs, but other companies like Bridgestone and Tognum announced new jobs.
“Companies’ gains and losses in head count are done periodically as they re-engineer their processes to remain competitive in the world marketplace,” said Economic Development Partnership Director Will Williams. “I still believe we will see positive job growth in Aiken County over the next 12 months.”
Williams pointed to the 200 jobs that Bridgestone opened in December, which are expected to be filled this year. Also, Recleim, an e-waste recycler, plans to hire the “bulk of the positions” for its Graniteville plant within the next six months, according to its website.
Though the job market seems to still be a bit turbulent, employed Aiken County residents are feeling more confident in looking at other opportunities.
Out of the staggering 7,400 applications that Bridgestone received in December for 200 job openings, almost 63 percent of those individuals were currently employed, Williams said. About 42 percent of the applicants came from Aiken County, he said.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard.
She has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va., and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.