South Carolina, national unemployment rates rise to record levels 1

A few people check to see if shops along Downtown Aiken's Lauren's street are open in March. Some businesses that closed have reopened since then.

The Palmetto State’s unemployment rate has soared to an unprecedented level because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It skyrocketed to a 12.1% in April from March’s revised rate of 3.2%, according to a news release issued Friday by the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

April’s figure was the highest rate and largest “over-the-month” increase in the history of a data series that goes back to 1976, the agency reported.

“While South Carolina’s high unemployment rate is shocking compared to the record lows we recently enjoyed, I am sure that this news isn’t a surprise to anyone,” said Dan Ellzey, executive director of the Department of Employment and Workforce, in a prepared statement. “As the unemployment rate has increased dramatically to 12.1%, it is significantly less than the U.S. rate of 14.7%. This unemployment level reflects our state’s careful, planned response to the COVID-19 pandemic in April.”

The estimated number of people in South Carolina who were unemployed in April was 288,022. That figure was up by 211,653 from March of this year. It also represented an increase of 210,351 when compared to April 2019.

“You will notice that the number of unemployed people estimated in this release, 288,022, are far lower than the number of individuals who have filed initial claims with our agency over the past 10 weeks, a number topping 500,000,” Ellzey said.

He explained that the disparity in the numbers is due to several factors:

• The survey of the employment situation is taken in the week of the 12th of each month while the initial claims numbers are updated weekly.

• There are tens of thousands of individuals whose business may have a furlough schedule, meaning they have filed a claim and will collect unemployment benefits for a week and then go back to work for a week. Depending on their schedule, the survey may not count them as unemployed even though they have an open claim with our agency.

• There are individuals who are working, but their hours are reduced making them eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, but also employed.

The nation’s 14.7% unemployment rate for April was a dramatic increase from 4.4% during previous month.

The Associated Press reported Friday that April’s percentage was “the highest rate since the Great Depression, as 20.5 million jobs vanished in the worst monthly loss on record.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s statistics “reflect what has become a severe recession caused by sudden business shutdowns in nearly every industry,” according to the Associated Press. “Nearly all the job growth achieved during the 11-year recovery from the Great Recession has now been lost in one month.”

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.