14% of South Carolina’s workforce says they have lost jobs
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — More than 341,000 people have reported losing their jobs in South Carolina since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, while officials are predicting revenue will be cut in half for the state’s major economic driver, tourism.
The 73,000 jobless claims filed for the week ending April 18 was the first drop since businesses began closing for COVID-19 in March, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Employment and Workforce.
But all the people reporting they are out of work over the past five weeks represents more than 14% of the South Carolina workforce as of February.
Amid that alarming backdrop, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster launched his first meeting Thursday of a group he calls “Accelerate South Carolina.”
More than two dozen mayors, presidents of institutions of higher learning, business owners, health care professionals and lawmakers are tasked with figuring out how to reopen the state after closing for the pandemic. In a large ballroom in downtown Columbia, task force members sat at individual tables set 6 feet (2 meters) apart. A shared podium was wiped down and sanitized in between each speaker, and many wore face masks.
McMaster said his goal is to have the South Carolina economy humming again by June.
Even if that happens, the outbreak will already have had devastating effects on the state’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry. Duane Parrish, director of South Carolina’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, told the task force Thursday that, over the last several weeks, more than 70,000 jobless claims had been filed in Charleston, Greenville and Horry counties, home to much of the state’s tourism industry.
For the year overall, Parrish predicted, the tourism industry in South Carolina, which last year brought in more than $24 billion, would be cut in half by the outbreak rather than continuing a yearslong path of record-setting growth. To come back from that, he said his agency would be developing an aggressive, targeted marketing strategy.
“We can make it okay for people to travel again, for people to shop again, for people to do those things that bring our economy back,” Parrish said. “I’m confident we can do it.”
North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, a task force member, said her coastal city — typically a generator of a significant portion of state tourism revenue — was struggling, furloughing 200 municipal employees alone, on top of legions of out-of-work hospitality workers.
“We need our cities to be open as soon as possible,” Hatley said, acknowledging the need to balance health and economic concerns.
Also this week, lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts asking judges to require South Carolina to relax rules on absentee voting for the June 9 statewide primaries.
Absentee voters currently must fall under certain requirements such as being disabled, unable to get to the polls because of work, out of state or over age 65. Ballots also must be signed by a witness.
The lawsuits said absentee rules don’t include isolating from a pandemic, which also could be a problem with the witness requirement.
South Carolina Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino wrote a letter last month to lawmakers backing no excuse absentee voting.
The governor has said he has no plans to delay the June 9 primaries, but has not given his opinion on expanding absentee or early voting.
The state lawsuit was filed by the South Carolina Democratic Party and the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The federal lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
More than 4,900 COVID-19 cases and 150 deaths have been reported statewide, according to a Thursday update of the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
For most people, the coronavirus behind the pandemic causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.