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The Associated Press March 25, 2011, 4:09PM ET

SC jobless rate declines to 10.2 percent in Feb.

South Carolina's unemployment rate declined for the second-straight month to 10.2 percent in February -- an improvement of 0.3 percentage points, the state Department of Employment and Workforce said Friday.

Overall, there were 18,000 more people working in February 2011 than a year ago, while there were nearly 15,000 fewer people in the labor force.

"This is a pretty lackluster job report," said College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner. "An 18,000 increase since last year will not get the state back to where it was anytime soon."

The agency said nearly all industries showed gains, including 2,500 additional construction jobs -- the first gain for that sector since October. The biggest increases were in leisure and hospitality jobs, which grew by 4,600. Professional and business services also gained 4,500 jobs.

"The good news is that six months of nonnegative results clearly signals the end of the downturn, we have reached the bottom of the trough," Hefner said. "The recovery however, does not look like has a lot of momentum yet."

One negative sign in Friday's report is the continuing decline in the labor force, which could be a sign that workers are discouraged and leaving the job market.

Nationally, unemployment dropped slightly, to 8.9 percent last month from 9 percent in January.

South Carolina, which has had persistently high joblessness for much of the past 10 years, had the seventh-highest unemployment rate in the nation behind Nevada (13.6 percent), California (12.2 percent), Florida (11.5 percent), Rhode Island (11.2 percent), Kentucky and Michigan (10.4 percent). Virginia and Oregon reported unemployment rates of 10.2 percent for February.

Detailed statistics on job gains and losses as well as county-by-county numbers were not immediately available because of a computer software change. Those numbers will be reported next month.

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