The jobs situation is improving, if only in baby steps.
That’s according to the state’s top economic officials in their monthly meeting Thursday. The Board of Economic Advisors said that, while the unemployment rate remains above ten percent, the number of new filings are down and the number of employed South Carolinians is growing, albeit at a very slow pace.
BEA Chairman Chad Walldorf says the unemployment rate has dropped two percent in the past year, and the gap between South Carolina and the national unemployment rate has narrowed from two percentage points to one.
He also pointed to a lower number of new unemployment claims and that the state is only paying $500 million in unemployment benefits after dishing out nearly $1 billion last year. All, he says, are indicators the jobs market is slowly coming back.
Walldorf says the amount of income tax South Carolina collects has gone up, even though the number of people working hasn’t risen by a similar amount. He explains the BEA’s suspicion why.
It appears to be that people are woking more hours and working overtime, which is why the (tax) withholding numbers are going up… It’s indicative of the beginnings of the recovery.
The BEA says mortgage rates are down, as well. Walldorf says that’s because banks are no longer as liberal with their loans as they were five years ago, and are trying to attract more qualified borrowers.
Fellow board member Robert Martin says that means fewer “ninjas” were receiving loans.
What’s a “ninja?” “No income, no job, approved.” Martin told the board.
However, the banks’ stinginess is keeping at least one industry is at rock bottom. New home construction still has not recovered in South Carolina, with only 500 new home permits in January. The Board says that’s roughly one-fifth of the monthly total in 2007. Walldorf says speculative developers are being hit especially hard.
It’s just gotten a lot tougher to borrow money… Banks are rarely lending money for speculative projects like they would have in the past.
The Board also announced that state revenue has grown five percent since last year at this point.
State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom told the board that sales tax money from car sales is going up, and sales are increasing nationwide. He says he thinks this will lead to more jobs in South Carolina– a heavy auto parts manufacturing state.