Unemployment in the Chattanooga area last month was at its lowest level since President Obama was elected in November 2008.
But the drop in the local jobless rate over the past year was due more to a decline in people looking for work than any surge in employment.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday that unemployment in the 6-county Chattanooga area was 7.1 percent in April, unchanged from March and 0.6 percent below the comparable U.S. jobless rate.
"The overall trend is staying fairly positive and we're certainly seeing a lot of expansions and companies adding employees, including some of the mid-level management positions that we cut during the recession," said Al Clark, general manager for Management Recruiters of Chattanooga-Brainerd and owner of the local MRI franchise.
Over the past year, Chattanooga's jobless rate has dropped from 8.3 percent in April 2011 to 7.1 percent last month, due to both more people on the job and fewer people looking for a job.
In the past 12 months, employment in metro Chattanooga grew by 1,750 jobs. But the size of the local workforce measured by the number of persons working or looking for work shrunk in the past year by 1,440 workers.
"It appears more young people are staying in school and some older workers who were laid off may be retiring early or giving up on trying to work," said Dr. David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.
Across the region, April's unemployment rate was lowest in Catoosa County, Ga., at 6.7 percent and highest in Murray County at 12.5 percent. Among the 19 counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, the jobless rate rose in the past year only in Murray County just south of Dalton, Ga.
Unemployment in metro Dalton declined during April by 0.2 percent to 11.4 percent. But Dalton's employment has continued to shrink. In the past year, Dalton has shed a net 3,013 jobs and its workforce has dropped by 3,387 persons.
From its peak in 2006, employment in metro Dalton has declined by more than 22 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Chattanooga, laid-off workers appear more optimistic.
James French, a 37-year-old veteran who lost his job with a local ambulance service in a dispute with another worker, said he is optimistic about finding another job.
"I think there are plenty of prospects for jobs," French said as he searched for openings at the Tennessee Career Center on Thursday. "People just need to put the time and effort to search for them."
But with unemployment still nearly twice the level it was a decade ago, other workers say they are still having trouble finding work.
Tyisha Lewis, a 21-year-old certified nursing assistant who lives in Ooltewah, has been unemployed since February. Lewis has worked since she was 16 in Tennessee and Florida and has never been unemployed for so long.
"It's hard right now to find another job" she said. "Hopefully, things will get better soon."