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SC unemployment dips below national rate

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina unemployment has fallen below the national jobless rate for the first time in more than a decade, officials said Tuesday.

In December, the state's jobless rate was 6.6. percent, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce. Two points lower than unemployment a year ago, December marked South Carolina's fourth straight monthly decline and the state's lowest mark since summer 2008, when unemployment was 6.3 percent in June and 6.7 percent in July.

Nationwide, unemployment was estimated at 6.7 percent for December, and South Carolina's was tied with Washington state for the 22nd highest rate in the country. State officials said last month marked the first time since January 2001 that South Carolina's jobless number fell below the national rate.

State officials attributed the declines to combined gains in trade, transportation, utilities and hospitality — about 6,200 jobs. Manufacturing and business services added another 900 combined jobs. Over the past year, all of those sectors together have added a total of 26,500 jobs, according to data provided by state officials.

Government jobs were down by about 1,100 last month. But over the past year, that sector is up by about 2,500 jobs.

Jobless rates fell last month in all but six of South Carolina's 46 counties. Allendale County posted the state's highest rate, at 14.3 percent, which was an increase of more than 1.5 percent compared to a month earlier.

Unemployment was lowest in Lexington County at 4.9 percent.

The number of unemployed people in South Carolina was just more than 142,000 in December, down about 9,800 from a month earlier. The number of employed people went up more than 10,500, to just above 2 million.

In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley hailed the news as evidence of the state's hard work.

"Getting our unemployment rate to this nearly six-year low didn't happen overnight and didn't happen by itself — it's the product of Team South Carolina working together to build the kind of business environment that attracts new companies and encourages existing ones to expand," Haley said.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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