Long Island's unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent in September, the lowest for the month since 2007, state Labor Department data released Tuesday show. A year ago the rate stood at 4.8 percent.

The decline came amid strong job growth. Last week the department said Long Island had 20,200 more jobs in September, compared with a year earlier.

In the latest survey, the number of unemployed Long Islanders dropped to 65,300, down 4,300 from a year earlier, and also the lowest for the month since 2007. Meanwhile, the number of residents with jobs rose to 1.40 million, up 32,600 from the year before, the highest for September since 2008.

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"Each of these results points to an improving labor market on Long Island," said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group.

That's a switch from the first quarter of this year, when the unemployment rate dropped because of rising numbers of "discouraged workers" -- those who stopped looking for a job because they didn't believe they could find one. They aren't included in unemployment statistics. But beginning in the spring, strong job growth enticed many of them to resume their job search. September extended that trend.

"It's a combination of unemployed people finding jobs and people re-entering the labor force and getting jobs," said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department's Hicksville office.

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Still, last month's numbers remain below pre-recession levels. For example, in September 2007, the unemployment rate was 3.9 percent; the Island had 57,900 unemployed residents and 1.42 million employed. So for many job-seekers, the employment market remains a challenge.

Unemployed Bellmore resident Jack Hanan, 66, began searching for a job in May for the first time in more than 30 years.

"I just didn't think it would be this hard," he said.

Hanan lost his most recent job as a bakery consultant after eight months. Before that he had co-owned a wholesale bakery in Brooklyn since 1978. But it closed in 2014, he said, because of rising commodity and distribution prices. He remains optimistic about finding a job.

"There will be somebody out there that I can help develop their company and meet their goals," he said.

The latest data are based on a U.S. Census survey that each month counts Long Island residents who are employed, full or part-time, regardless of where they work. The business survey released last week tallies the number of jobs on the Island.

The department uses year-over-year comparisons because the data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal swings in employment. The comparisons indicate the annual rate at which the Island is adding or losing jobs.

Among the Island's incorporated areas, Southampton Town's 3.9 percent jobless rate was the lowest. Hempstead Village and Babylon Town tied for the highest rate at 5.2 percent.