MARLBORO COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Marlboro County led South Carolina with the highest unemployment rate for the 9th straight month, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

The county’s rate in May — the most recent month available — was 6.6%.

Erica Von Nessen, an SCDEW research economist, said that while the rate is high, the raw number of unemployed people is roughly 600. May’s figure is still much lower than the pandemic high rate of 15.9%.

“So we have seen quite a bit of recovery, but it’s just not necessarily to where they want to be yet,” Von Nessen said.

She said 100 people in Marlboro County returning to work would lower the unemployment rate by a full percentage point.

“It’s something we can take small steps to achieve really big results,” Von Nessen said.

The county’s relatively high unemployment rate boils down to the county being so rural and its reliance on manufacturing jobs, which have moved away over time, Von Nessen said, pointing out that 70% of the working people who live in Marlboro County travel outside the county for work.

“If you’re having to travel 20, 30, 40 miles away, that’s a transportation potential barrier,” Von Nessen said.

Government work is the third largest sector in the county, which is another contributing factor to the unemployment rate, Von Nessen said.

“[Government is] very slow to lay off, but they’re also very slow to recover,” Von Nessen said. “Unlike restaurants which try to bounce back as quickly as possible, government takes its time before it decides to hire.”

Alleviating the transportation concerns would help bring the unemployment rate down in the county because it would also help with child care concerns for working parents, she said.