By Sandy Foster
PICKENS COUNTY - The unemployment rate is up to 7.3 percent in Pickens County, but that’s slightly lower than the state average of 8.4 percent.
And the jobless rate continues to soar, according to S.C. Employment Security Commission officials, who said the current situation was predictable.
“This rise in joblessness was expected as layoffs and business closures continue to mount in the wake of the national economic crisis,” said Roosevelt T. Halley, Executive Director of the commission.
With the unemployment rate continuing to rise, the state, including Pickens County, is one of the hardest hit areas in the nation, with the national unemployment rate at a lower 6.7 percent.
As of November, non-farm jobs in the state had dropped to 1.9 million, 43,000 less than a year ago, and there have been sharp declines in jobs in food service, professional services, construction and manufacturing.
However, the government sector in Pickens County has not been hit hard so far in terms of layoffs.
In Pickens County, four of the top 10 employers are tax-run agencies, including Clemson University, the state, the School District of Pickens County and Pickens County government, according to Alliance Pickens.
Those four agencies provide 10,919 jobs in Pickens County, where 45 percent of the workforce travels outside its boundaries to work.
Clemson University, the largest employer in the county, has implemented a mandatory five-day furlough without pay for employees.
The university has launched a fund to help employees affected by the lost pay, with President Jim Barker making the first contribution.
“We have some employees, who, we know, were struggling in this economy before the furlough was even announced,” Barker said.
County officials are also tightening belts to avoid layoffs.
Personnel in departments with fewer customers are being moved to other departments where help is needed, according to County Administrator Chappell Hurst.
So far, the county has lost $600,000 due to state budget cuts.
School District officials are also looking at ways to make cuts and are dipping into reserve funds because of losses in state money.
Pickens County has a workforce of nearly 70,000, and more than 12,500 of those employees work in manufacturing, according to Alliance Pickens data.
In 2007, 2,306 lost their jobs in Pickens County due to layoffs and plant closings at Quality Foods, Alice Manufacturing, Staff Masters, OWT Industries, Winn Dixie, CarePro, Alliance Staffing, Central Textiles, Sulzer Process Pumps, the American House of Spinning and Penn Compression Molding.