Survey sheds light on what’s keeping work-eligible South Carolinians from employment

SC Department of Employment and Workforce
SC Department of Employment and Workforce(Mary Green)
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 9:03 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - New data released Friday reveals nearly half of South Carolinians who are old enough and eligible to work are not employed or actively looking for a job.

That comes as more than 100,000 jobs are open across South Carolina, while the state’s unemployment rate remains historically low at 3.3%.

A statewide task force is trying to figure out why discrepancies exist between those figures, and its members recently received the results of an extensive survey that sheds light on what is driving it.

“It’s a deeply concerning issue, and we have to bring a lot of people to the table to figure out how to address it,” Bryan Grady, a task force member and the labor market information director for the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, said.

The task force commissioned a survey focused on people who were employed in South Carolina in 2019, filed for unemployment in 2020, and then were not present in the Department of Employment and Workforce’s wage data in 2021.

More than a quarter of the approximately 6,000 people who responded said they were not currently working but were able to work.

That group then detailed what barriers were keeping them from getting a job.

The most frequently cited reasons across races, genders, and age groups were low-paying jobs, gaps in employment history, optimal hours not being available, lack of transportation, and disabilities.

Women also cited lack of childcare or the need to stay with their child among their top reasons, while more men said a criminal record was holding them back.

When it comes to what would entice them to return to work, four responses by far garnered the most support: higher-paying jobs (51%), flexible working conditions (49%), a location closer to home (48%), and flexible hours (44%).

The next two highest-named factors only earned single-digit support: reduction in current income (6%) and losing current benefits (4%).

Grady said the full findings of the survey will be critical to guiding the task force’s work and recommendations.

“And we say, ‘All right, here’s what’s going on in South Carolina. What do we do about it?’ Because we’ve seen the labor force participation rate, unfortunately, in the last few months, it’s continued to decline, fifth-lowest in the United States,” he said.

New data shows that the rate is currently about 56%, meaning slightly over half of South Carolinians who are old enough and eligible to work are either employed or actively looking for work. The current national labor force participation rate is about 62%.

“If we can raise our labor force participation rate by one percentage point, that would increase wages in the state of South Carolina by over $1.1 billion per year,” SCDEW Director Dan Ellzey said.

The task force plans to hold briefings in January and February to break down these findings.

Grady said they want a wide array of people involved from both the public and private sectors as they move toward the policy development and recommendation phase of their work.

Those recommendations could involve the private sector, other state agencies, local governments, and the state legislature.

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