Long Island's unemployment rate dropped sharply to 6 percent in April, the lowest since 2008, the state Labor Department said Tuesday. In April 2012 the rate stood at 7.1 percent.

The drop comes after the department last week said the local economy had 27,200 more jobs last month than the year before, the strongest growth in almost a year.

For three consecutive months the jobless rate has dropped amid stronger employment. But the steep 1.1 percentage-point drop surprised a local economist.

"What is sort of striking is that it's down more than a full percentage point from the year before," said Michael Crowell, a senior economist in the department's Hicksville office. "It really does . . . seem to indicate that the economy is getting better."

The number of unemployed Long Islanders fell to 88,900 in April from 104,000 the year before, according to the data, which are based on a household survey. Meanwhile, the number of employed residents rose to 1.384 million from 1.360 million a year earlier.

Job growth has been so strong in recent months that the Island now has 15,000 more jobs than in April 2008, before the recession began shrinking the employment market. The department uses year-over-year data for comparisons because the local statistics aren't seasonally adjusted to reflect normal monthly fluctuations.

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Still, another local economist remains concerned about the economy's lingering recessionary damage. The current jobless rate and the number of unemployed residents still significantly exceed the 4 percent unemployment rate and the 59,200 jobless workers in April 2008, said economist Gregory DeFreitas, who heads Hofstra University's labor studies program.

"While the 6 percent LI rate is welcome news, we still have much room for a full recovery," DeFreitas said.

Some job seekers know that firsthand. Sayville resident Alison McGarry, 42, has been searching for a job since October, when the single mom of two young children left her position as a theater teacher at a Harlem charter school because of an onerous commute.

McGarry, who in July had relocated to Long Island from California after 19 years away, said she had no idea her job search would last so long.

"If I had known how hard it was going to be to find other work, I wouldn't have left" the job, she said.

Long Island's jobless rate was significantly below the 7.3 percent rate for the state and the nation's 7.5 percent; those numbers, like the local rate, aren't seasonally adjusted.