Columbia - Extended federal unemployment benefits are being phased out for almost 86,000 jobless workers in South Carolina despite the state's high 9.3 percent jobless rate.

About 6,500 people will lose extended unemployment benefits starting in April. The remaining 79,000 jobless South Carolinians who now are getting extended jobless benefits will lose them at the end of the year, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce said Thursday.

Starting in January, workers who lose their jobs in South Carolina will qualify only for 20 weeks of unemployment checks. During the worst of the Great Recession, workers could get up to 79 additional weeks of jobless checks - for a total of 99 weeks of benefits - while they searched for a job.

The state's falling unemployment rate triggered the loss of extended benefits. Jobless workers in seven other states also lose their extended benefits.

I'm a little surprised,' said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner. 'You've got a lot of rural areas in the state, some of which have the highest unemployment rates in the country.'

Many of those rural counties still are suffering double-digit jobless rates; some had double-digit jobless rates before the Great Recession. The loss of extended benefits could mean workers in those depressed counties will move to more urban areas, where jobless rates are falling, to look for work, Vitner said.

South Carolina is among seven states where the falling jobless rate 'triggered' the loss of extended federal benefits, Employment and Workforce spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said. The others are Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Unemployed workers who move from 20 weeks of state unemployment benefits to the extended federal benefits before the end of the year will have to prove they still are eligible to get an unemployment check in a face-to-face meeting with the workforce department, Fairwell said.

That department has been criticized for failing to review the eligibility of jobless workers seeking unemployment benefits.

South Carolina's jobless rate - which peaked at 12 percent in late 2010 - has been falling for the past six months. After a historic decline in December, the rate fell to 9.3 percent in January.

However, that still is a full percentage point above the national rate. Nearly two-thirds of the state's 46 counties still have jobless rates or more than 10 percent; Marion County's 19.2 percent rate is the highest.