Service sector

Pandemic affects service sector wages in Horry County

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) — First-time jobless claims are trending up in South Carolina after hitting record lows in late November.

The latest data from the South Carolina Department of Employment and Manpower shows that 1,578 initial claims were filed last week. 161 were filed in Horry County, accounting for 10.2% of claims and the largest share of claims from any of the state’s 46 counties. Last week was the third week in a row that Horry County held the top spot.

Bryan Grady, director of labor market information at SCDEW, said the pandemic recovery along the Grand Strand has been strong but remains delicate.

“We would certainly expect that even if the state as a whole has a robust recovery, there will be some volatility there,” Grady said. “Leisure and hospitality have generally seen the highest spikes and largest declines over the past two years in terms of employment numbers.”

Horry County’s unemployment rate is higher than the overall state rate at 4.4 percent. Grady said it was still much lower than at the end of 2020, when it was 7.7%.

Alex Wahba, owner of Kaminsky’s NY Deli in Myrtle Beach, operates the store with the help of his wife. The off season months of December, January and February there are usually only two of them six days a week with seasonal staff providing assistance the rest of the year.

Except last year.

Wahba never found anyone to hire.

“Since last year and since the pandemic, it hasn’t worked very well,” Wahba said. “I mean, it took forever and I still couldn’t find anyone last year all year.”

Wahba said he could pay $12 an hour, adding that he was pushed out of the job market by bigger stores and chains that could afford to pay more.

“All the big stores and grocery stores are hiring right now with high rates that are very hard to compete with, so it’s a bit of a challenge,” Wahba said.

In Horry County, the average hourly wage for recreation and hospitality workers increased 14.6% in 2 years. Service sector workers fell from an average of $14.11 per hour to $16.17 per hour from December 2019 to December 2021.

“The wage pressure that is being talked about in many places is particularly acute in Horry County,” Grady said.

As the hiring season is expected to kick into high gear in Myrtle Beach with spring and summer approaching, Grady said he expects workers to still be in high demand.

“You’re going to have difficulty for companies in certain industries to find skilled work,” Grady said.

Wahba said he placed more signage and bought more online ads to try to avoid a repeat of last summer. He said that before the pandemic, positions were usually filled within two weeks.