COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – According to data shared by the state Department of Employment and Workforce (SC DEW), South Carolina’s labor force participation rate is at about 56% despite experiencing record low unemployment.

Officials said that South Carolina’s labor force participation rate is about six percentage points below the national average and is fourth lowest in the country.

This rate represents the percentage of South Carolinians over the age of 16 who are currently working or actively looking for work.

A task force put together by SC DEW has spent most of the year looking at why there is a deficit of participants in the workforce compared to the surplus of jobs available across the state

SC DEW said currently there are more than 100,000 open jobs in South Carolina.

Labor Market Information Director Dr. Bryan Grady said, “We want to make sure everyone who does have an interest in work is able to find work and able to make a good living for themselves.”

The task force surveyed South Carolinians who were working in 2019 according to DEW records, submitted claims for unemployment benefits in 2020 and did not return to work in 2021.

They found some of the top barriers for those not working but available to work include low paying wages, gaps in employment history, lack of transportation and health.

Dr. Grady said the task force also conducted research into labor force participation rate trends in South Carolina. The data showed the rate declined from 67.3% in 1994 to 58.8% in 2019 in the Palmetto State.

Researchers attributed this decline to South Carolina’s aging population but increased educational attainment was able to offset this. Combining the aging population with the COVID-19 pandemic made things worse, Grady said.

The task force is now working on recommendations to help boost the state’s labor force participation rate.

Dr. Grady said, “If we increase the participation rate by 1 percentage point that translate to about $1.2 billion in wages paid out. That has all sorts of implications for economic growth and fiscal stability.”

He said they’ll be holding briefings with government and industry groups in 2023 to discuss their findings.