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The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped slightly across the North Bay in August, with several industries seeing increased hiring activity, according to figures released this morning by the state Economic Development Department.

Sonoma County had an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent -- the lowest rate in three years -- in August, down from a 8.6 percent in July and below last year's rate of 9.9 percent.

Over the year, the county had a net gain of 6,500 jobs and positive job growth for the fourth straight month. The manufacturing sector adding 1,400 jobs -- 500 over the month -- followed by professional and business services and health and education services, which each added 1,300 over the year. Trade, transportation and utilities and construction posted annual gains of 900 and 800, respectively.

The government sector was the only one to post a yearly loss, at 300. But over the month it added 1,100 jobs, with a 1,400-job gain in local education as the school year began.

Overall, the state's economy is showing slow but steady improvement, according to Beacon Economics, which has an office in San Rafael. Over the year, California added 298,700 jobs, a 2.1 percent increase. The state employment rate was 10.4 percent last month, above the national average of 8.1 percent.

That may appear to be lackluster, but Beacon Economics noted the state remains one of the country's top job markets.

"California remains one of the top 10 labor markets in the country and is poised for continued, although measured, growth through 2013," the Beacon Employment Report said. "The state has seen a strong recovery in consumer and business spending, and its housing market is working its way back from post-recession lows."

Over the year, private industry payrolls have increased by 322,100, or 2.8 percent, according the Beacon Economics.

The jobless rate in Solano County was 10 percent, down from 10.3 percent in July and below the year-ago estimate of 11.5 percent.

Solano had a net gain of 2,400 jobs over the previous 12 months. Leading the way in net annual job growth was trade, transportation and utilities, which added 900 positions overall. Leisure and hospitality added 700, while education and health services and professional services added 600 and 500 jobs, respectively.

Marin County continues to have the lowest jobless rate in California, at 6.3 percent in August compared with 6.7 percent in July and 7.6 percent a year ago, according to revised figures.

Individual industry specifics for Marin, part of the three-county region that includes San Francisco and San Mateo counties, are not yet available for 2012.

Napa County's unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent from 7.7 percent in July and 8.5 percent last year.

Nearly every sector had an annual net job loss, all together a 1.9 percent, or 1,300-position, reduction. The exception was government, which added 100 jobs for the year and 500 for the month. The biggest decline over the year was in leisure and hospitality, which shed 500 jobs.

However, Napa County was among the state's top five regions for fastest month-over-month job gains -- 0.8 percent, according to Beacon Economics.

Mendocino County's official unemployment rate dropped to 9.3 percent, down from a revised 9.8 percent in July and below well last year's rate of 10.5 percent.

Modest year-over-year job growth occurred in farming and private education and health services, at 20 and 10 jobs apiece.

Lake County's jobless rate dropped to 14 percent, down from 14.7 percent in July and 15.6 percent a year ago.

Private education and health added 20 jobs over the year and trade, transportation and utilities added 10.

Across the state, education and health services posted the most monthly job growth with the start of the school year, netting a total of 8,900 jobs. Professional, scientific and technical services added 6,100, while construction added 5,100, according to Beacon Economics.Unemployment rates for North Bay countiesCountyAugust

2011revised July

2012August

2012State rank

(out of 58)Lake15.6% 14.7% 14.0% 45Marin7.6% 6.7% 6.3% 1Mendocino10.5% 9.8% 9.3% 16Napa8.5% 7.7% 7.5% 4Solano10.5% 10.3% 10.0% 24 Sonoma9.9% 8.6% 8.3% 8California11.9% 10.9% 10.4% --U.S.9.1% 8.6% 8.1% --

Source: California Employment Development Department and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.