By MEG KINNARDCOLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) â¿¿ Unemployment in South Carolina remained unchanged at 8 percent last month, state officials said Friday. South Carolina's non-farm jobs went up by 5,400 in May and are up 21,600 compared with this time a year ago, according to the monthly release from the Department of Employment and Workforce. The biggest month-to-month job gains came in the professional and business services sector, at 3,700 jobs, a rise officials attributed to increased temporary hiring, as well as jobs in architectural and engineering services. Leisure and hospitality jobs went up by 2,900 as the state's multi-billion-dollar tourism industry continued to staff up for the summer season. Tourism spending in South Carolina reached a record $16.5 billion in 2011, according to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. South Carolina State Parks had record revenues of $21 million last fiscal year. Last fall, Charleston was named the top tourist destination in the world by readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine. But jobless rates actually went up in all but one of South Carolina's 46 counties last month. The sole exception was Saluda County, whose figure was unchanged, at 6.4 percent. Unemployment was highest in Marion County, at 15.2 percent. Lexington County posted the state's lowest rate, at 6.1 percent. State workforce officials said the state rate is seasonally adjusted, meaning that a formula eliminating the influence of factors like weather, holidays and school closings has been applied to the data. But county-level numbers aren't adjusted seasonally, and agency data experts said those numbers likely went up because more people began looking for work. National unemployment went up slightly to 7.6 percent last month. State officials said May was the closest South Carolina's rate had been to the national figure since March 2008. The state was tied with Connecticut for the 14th-highest jobless rate in the country. Unemployment was again highest in Nevada in May at 9.5 percent.
In April, South Carolina's jobless rate fell to a five-year low of 8 percent. Officials attributed that decline in part to increased tourism-related hiring.Last month, state officials announced that the unemployment agency would be making a $144 million early payment toward its debt to the federal government, helping to reduce businesses' insurance taxes. The payment was four months ahead of schedule, saving $1.7 million â¿¿ $14,000 a day â¿¿ in interest costs. Unemployment insurance director Erica Von Nessen said it would leave a balance of $540 million on the state's original debt of nearly $1 billion. ___ Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP