Myrtle Beach area jobless rate drops sharply for second month

Horry County’s unemployment rate fell sharply for the second consecutive month in March, with a 0.7-point decline, pushing the two-month total to a nearly 3-point decline, according to figures released Friday by the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

Horry’s March jobless rate was 6.5 percent, down more than 2 points from the same time last year and a 2.9 percent drop since January.

Statewide, the unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent, a 0.2-point decline from February and the lowest March rate since 2008.

Rob Salvino, an economist with Coastal Carolina University, said the March drop is not unexpected as the Grand Strand gets into the thick of the spring tourist season.

He said that the rate will likely continue dropping through July, when temporary jobs will begin to be trimmed.

Salvino said the growth in the number of employed from year to year shows that the area’s economic recovery is continuing.

Horry’s rate dropped despite a 3,000-person climb in the workforce to 124,928, the employment department reported. The number of employed persons climbed by 4,600 at the same time to a total of 116,794. The workforce is made up of the number of people employed plus the number looking for work.

The jobless rate also fell in Georgetown County, down 0.5 points since February to a rate of 6 percent. Georgetown’s March rate was 2.8 points lower than March 2013.

DEW reported that 2,100 new construction jobs statewide were filled in March and that March this year had 3,500 more construction jobs than the same month last year.

The leisure and hospitality industry statewide added 9,300 jobs, a 4.31 percent climb, from February to March, according to DEW statistics.

Salvino said that March building permits reached the highest volume in Horry County since 2003, and noted that it meant continued strength for the area’s construction jobs.

The building and housing recovery is happening sooner than expected, he said, and is driven by migration, second home demand and normal job growth.

Construction jobs, Salvino said, are tied into long-term job employment numbers, another positive sign for the Grand Strand.

He said that the improvement of the job market “seems to be driven by pretty fundamental factors,” meaning that it likely will be sustained.

The Myrtle Beach metropolitan statistical area, which includes Conway and North Myrtle Beach, showed the highest February to March job growth of the state’s metro area, both in numbers and percentage.

The 4,600 new jobs equaled a 4.1 percent growth in the number of people working, according to the DEW numbers, which was 2.5 points higher than the Anderson metro area, the state’s second fastest growing region.

“South Carolina has seen 10 consecutive months of a declining unemployment rate,” DEW Executive Director Cheryl Stanton said in an emailed statement. “The state’s economy is right on track.”