Jobless rate by county

Charleston County

Feb. Jan. Feb. 2012

6.6% 7.1% 7.7%

Berkeley County

Feb. Jan. Feb. 2012

7.2% 7.7% 8.6%

Dorchester County

Feb. Jan. Feb. 2012

6.7% 7.1% 7.8%

S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce

South Carolina’s jobless rate decreased in February, which also marked the highest employment level for the state in more than four years, newly released figures show.

The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce reported Friday that the unemployment rate was 8.6 percent last month, down a full percentage point from the same month a year ago, but still above the U.S. average.

Nationally, the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent last month.

More than 1.99 million South Carolina workers had jobs in February, the highest level since August 2008, according to Friday’s report.

Gains were recorded in all employment segments except trade, transportation and utilities.

The government segment had the largest gains for February with more than 8,000 jobs added.

The education category also posted strong increases as staffing levels were increased after the holiday break. Leisure and hospitality businesses also added to their payrolls.

Steve Slifer, a Charleston-based economist and owner of NumberNomics, said the improved jobs market is tied in part to the turnaround in home sales, which drives retail sales and other sectors of the economy.

“What is happening both local and nationally is the housing sector seems to be starting this vigorous recovery,” Slifer said. “You need construction workers to build homes, but then there’s also furniture, appliances and other things associated.”

The building industry added more than 900 jobs in the state in February.

The unemployment rate for the greater Charleston area was 6.8 percent last month, down from 8 percent in February 2012.

Marion County had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 17.9 percent. The lowest was in Lexington County, at 6.4 percent.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550.