SC has more open jobs now than when it ended federal COVID unemployment — but state leaders argue that’s good

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Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 7:05 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina has about 25,000 more open jobs right now than when the state announced it would stop allowing people to receive federal pandemic unemployment benefits.

State leaders argued in May that the move was necessary to curb South Carolina’s labor shortage.

But the Department of Employment and Workforce claims these additional job vacancies show the decision to end the federal benefits was the right one.

“It’s a sign that the strategy did work,” SCDEW Executive Director Dan Ellzey said. “You’ve got the economy firing on all cylinders. You’ve got people coming back to work — hundreds and hundreds of thousands have gone back to work in the state of South Carolina. So there is no doubt — there are many factors — but there is no doubt the elimination of the federal benefits did push people earlier to getting out and going back to their old jobs.”

University of South Carolina Research Economist Joey Von Nessen said this increase in open jobs — from 81,684 when South Carolina announced in May it would be opting out of federal pandemic unemployment at the end of June to around 107,000 now, according to Ellzey — is positive because it reflects higher levels of demand, growing from pandemic shutdowns and shortfalls.

“We’re seeing more consumer spending, and we’re seeing a robust recovery for South Carolina, and that is very good news,” Von Nessen said.

He said the rise in the number of people working in South Carolina — from 2,277,505 in May to 2,307,087 in September, the latest data the state has made available — also supports that claim but is not the only factor.

“It’s really hard to tease out what the specific effects of ending the federal benefits were,” Von Nessen said. “But we know that it likely had a marginal effect, at minimum, because, as I mentioned, if we looked at workers who were earning less than $16 an hour before the pandemic, then they were better off financially staying on unemployment up through June, and so that financial calculus for those individuals changed beginning in July. So it likely had an impact in the low-wage sectors.”

But Von Nessen added the increase in open jobs also reflects an ongoing labor shortage as employers struggle to fill vacant positions.

Now, he said the challenge is if South Carolina will have enough manpower to keep up with its economic growth.

“That’s a challenge that’s not short-term. It’s not going away, and it’s something that we have to be very sensitive to if we’re going to continue this great recovery that we’ve seen so far,” Von Nessen said. “I think that’s a pressing question for next year. Are we going to have the labor supply that we need to continue to generate the demand that we’re seeing?”

Von Nessen also noted that while South Carolina currently has one of the highest rates of population growth in the country, many of the people moving to the state are 55 and older — people who he said will come to South Carolina and spend money but likely are not filling those open jobs.

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