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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina's unemployment rate soared to a level never seen in more than 40 years of reporting as the coronavirus wiped out nearly half the state's restaurant tourism and other hospitality jobs.

The state's unemployment rate was 12.1% in April, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce's report Friday. The jobless rate was 3.2% in March, but the agency conducted the survey before entire sectors of the economy were shut down because of COVID-19 in mid-March.

South Carolina's unemployment rate touched 11.7% twice in the Great Recession, the last time in February 2010. Before April, it had never been higher since the federal government started keeping detailed statistics in 1976, officials said.

"This is not a regular recession. This is an absolute train wreck," Department of Employment and Workforce Executive Director Dan Ellzey said Thursday to a state Senate committee.

The pandemic wiped out more than 288,000 jobs in a month in a state where 2.4 million people want to work, Ellzey's agency said.

Weekly unemployment claims over the past nine weeks topped 515,000, but the agency said those numbers included people counted in the earlier survey as well as workers put on furlough for a week or more or who had hours reduced and were eligible for jobless benefits.

The shutdown of dine-in restaurants and tourist attractions and the curtailing of hotel rentals because of the pandemic meant the number of leisure and hospitality jobs dropped from 268,000 in March to 142,000 in April — 47% of those jobs gone.

The unemployment rate in Horry County, which includes Myrtle Beach, went from 3.9% in March to a state high 22.7% in April. Charleston County went from a near state low of 2.5% unemployment in March to 13% in April.

Other parts of the economy that saw double-digit percentage declines in jobs were professional and business services, which includes accountants, engineers, consultants and other specialized jobs and education and health services.

Ellzey said Thursday the state's unemployment agency is in much better shape than 2008 when the Great Recession nearly brought it crashing down. South Carolina has distributed more than $1.3 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits so far.

Lawmakers have promised to give a good chunk of federal aid to keep the state's unemployment trust fund from being depleted.

But Ellzey told senators while South Carolina has weathered the COVID-19 initial shock, things aren't going to get better as fast as they fell apart because people and businesses are going to be careful about spending money.

"Until the confidence returns, we are going to be slow even through we reopen. which means money coming into the trust fund is going to be lower, the unemployment rate are going to stay higher and our problems will continue," Ellzey said.

Nearly 9,650 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in South Carolina and at least 419 deaths, according to an update Friday from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

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