A critical scrutiny of the State Employment Security Commission and the services they provide began Tuesday morning with a meeting of a House Ways and Means subcommittee chaired by Lexington County Representative Kenny Bingham. Testifying before the subcommittee was Dr. Rebecca Gunnlaugson, Director of Research for the South Carolina Department of Commerce. Gunnlaugson says in order for the state to better serve its unemployed, it must first get a clear focus on who the unemployed are and that is not easy because of many factors including population growth and rapid technological change in business and industry. Gunnlaugson says a clear snap shot of the unemployed cannot be obtained from the data that indicates that the state is experiencing a 12 percent unemployment rate.
“The 12.1 percent is a household survey. They go out and survey persons and ask “Are you unemployed? If your are, have you gone out and searched for a job in the past month?” Those who conduct those surveys determine the entire universe of people who are unemployed. Actually only a certain segment of these persons may qualify for unemployment insurance and those persons would apply if they become unemployed. Now only a segment of those who apply would actually be eligible for unemployment insurance.”
Gunnlaugson says in order to gauge if an unemployed individual can be helped by the employment services provided by the ESC a good place to start is the education level attained by the individual.
Gunnlaugson says almost a quarter, 23.5 percent, of persons who are listed as having made claims do not list education information because those claims were generated by employers who do not have to list education information. These claims are usually made when companies have a significant number of temporary or permanent layoffs. Gunnlaugson says for those who do list their education, the data tells an interesting and surprising story.
“Of all of those who do have educational information, the overwhelming majority are high school graduates. We were actually surprised to find out that we had such a wide variety of people with post secondary education. If you look at industry, occupation, and a number of other characteristics it is not necessarily just one type of person that is unemployed. We really have a wide variety of characteristics of people that are out of work.”
Gunnlaugson says of those who listed their education, 38 percent have a high school diploma and nearly 21 percent have education experience beyond high school.
Gunnlaugson says from January 2006 to October 2009, 944,000 unemployment claims were made in the state. Gunnlaugson says the interesting aspect of these figures is that one third of the claimants made one half of the claims because these people move in and out of several jobs. Gunnlaugson says these figures reflect the greater use of temporary employees, and she adds these are not all low wage, low skilled workers.
“There are a lot of high wage workers, accountants, engineers, production workers all consolidated is this one temporary staffing industry. This makes it hard to break down and determine, using available data, which industry each individual actually had been working in, and that is a problem. But more and more business are starting to use temps as the cost of bringing on a full time worker gets higher and higher. Companies are finding that bringing on a temporary employee is easier and divesting of that employee is also easier.”
Gunnlaugson points out that when gauging the state’s unemployed you must take into account that South Carolina has experienced the sixth largest labor force growth partly fueled by the tenth largest population growth. ” We have an increasing use of temporary workers. This is a nationwide trend that is also happening in South Carolina and we don’t expect it to change. The manufacturing industry is in a state of transition, it has been for a while from labor intensive to more capital intensive. This is also a nationwide trend. We also have a general shift of our occupational mix towards requiring more highly skilled workers and that is not only a nationwide trend, it is in fact a global trend.”