By MEG KINNARD
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) â¿¿ South Carolina unemployment dropped slightly in February to 8.6 percent, a dip that state officials on Friday attributed in part to big increases in the government sector.
The state's jobless rate was 8.6 percent last month, according to the state Department of Employment and Workforce. That's one-tenth of a percentage point lower than January's rate.
Officials attributed the drop to gains in non-farm jobs, which went up by nearly 18,000 last month and are more than 30,000 higher than February 2012. The government sector grew last month by 8,000 jobs, with officials saying that was because schools ramped up hiring for the spring semester. The state's total for government sector jobs was 355,200, more than 6,000 jobs higher than a year ago.
Demand was also higher last month for health care and social services. The leisure and hospitality sectors also gained about 4,000 jobs.
A spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley hailed the decline in unemployment as evidence that the Republican's efforts to bring new jobs to the state were paying off.
"Today's unemployment numbers are all the motivation the governor needs to keep working until every South Carolinian who wants a job has a job," Rob Godfrey said in a statement.
South Carolina's unemployment was tied with several other areas for the 10th-highest in the country. California, Mississippi and Nevada tied for the nation's highest jobless rate, at 9.6 percent.
Unemployment was highest in Marion County, at 17.9 percent, while Lexington County's 6.4 percent was the state's lowest. Jobless rates went down in all but two counties.
South Carolina's jobless agency is seeking a new director. Five people have submitted their names for the vacancy created when Abraham Turner resigned from the post last month, a day after senators demanded answers for why the agency had given nearly $440,000 in raises to dozens of employees but is cutting one-on-one help for people seeking benefits in 17 rural offices statewide.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP