Jimmy Green picked up his diploma from Howard Academy of Science and Technology two weeks ago and hopes to go to work next week at the Wrigley plant in Chattanooga.
The 18-year-old job hunter was among more than two dozen prospective workers getting orientation Thursday for new $7.25-an-hour jobs they could soon be at on the production line at Wrigley, which is expanding its Chattanooga plant this year.
"I know the job market is still tough, but I feel pretty good about my prospects," he said after taking preliminary work tests at the Tennessee Career Center.
Over the past year, metropolitan Chattanooga has added 7,620 jobs of the kind Green hopes to land, cutting the area's jobless rate from 9 percent a year ago to 8.5 percent last month, according to figures released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Despite an uptick in the unemployment rate last month, the jobless rate is still down from a year ago across Tennessee and Georgia, state job agencies in the two states reported Thursday.
In the 16 counties in Chattanooga area, the monthly jobless rate in April was up in 10 and down in six from the previous month. But all counties were below their year-ago jobless rates.
Unemployment remained highest in rural counties and the hard-hit Carpet Capital in Dalton. The jobless rate was the lowest in Hamilton and Catoosa counties.
The jobless rate fell by two-tenths of a percent to 11.2 percent in metro Dalton-the lowest level in nearly two years.
But unemployment in the six-county Chattanooga metro area rose 0.3 percent to 8.5 percent.
Area employers shed nearly 20,000 jobs from the peak reached in 2007 and employment still remains more than 17,000 jobs below the level of three years ago in the six-county Chattanooga area.
A COMPANY RECOVERS
But businesses are hiring again, albeit at a slower pace than in most previous economic recoveries.
At East Tech Co., a second shift was added back last week - more than two years after the economic slump forced company President Roger Layne to lay off more than half of his then-37-employee staff.
"We're seeing improved sales to several of our clients and I'm hoping to add another five or six more employees this year beyond the couple we just hired back," said Layne, who started the precision tooling company in 2003.
"We're expecting to have a really good year," Layne said.
But for many displaced workers, especially those in their 40s and 50s, this year isn't shaping up as well.
"Doors that used to be wide open for me I can hardly see through today," said Edward Greene Jr., a 59-year-old with a college degree who lost his job at Lowe's in April 2010 and has been unsuccessful in finding work. "This is the worst job market I've seen in my lifetime and if you're in your 50s like I am, employers don't seem to want to hire you."