They came eager with résumés in hand in the face of new, more daunting numbers on unemployment and a forecast for many more long, cold months of economic winter.
"It's been a year since my last job, and this is getting ridiculous," said Modesto resident Juaquin Tafolla, 32, one of more than 300 people who attended a job fair sponsored by the Employment Development Department on Friday afternoon. "So I'm bringing my A game. I'm sure things will get better."
But with Stanislaus County's jobless rate spiking from 15.2 percent to 16.6 percent in October and the state rate rising to a record high of 12.5 percent, the prospects for many job hunters remain grim.
Neighboring Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothill counties saw somewhat smaller jobless rate jumps in October, from 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent, according to reports released Friday.
The October uptick follows a historical trend in unemployment, as the seasonal summer agriculture and manufacturing work ends.
But the Stanislaus County increase is slightly higher than the average 1 percentage point hike the county has had since 2000, said EDD labor market analyst Liz Baker.
It also is the the highest unemployment the county has seen since April, when the rate sat at 16.7 percent.
"Usually in the winter months we start to see some increases; the year-to-year numbers speak to the severity of our economic downturn, and that's the same story across the state," Baker said.
Still, economic forecasters hold out little hope for an improvement through the winter, expecting rates to climb to new highs for the decade.
"This is the front end of your seasonal rise in unemployment," said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific.
"I think when we hit this February, as we hit the peak of the seasonal lull, we could be close to 19 percent. I wouldn't say 20 percent is impossible. It is going to be a terrible winter."
Michael said the winter and early spring should see the unemployment rate reach the high point for this recession and then begin what likely will be a long, slow recovery.
Statewide, the jobless rate rose to a modern record, though more than 25,000 Californians found jobs.
The state has lost 687,700 jobs since October 2008, according to the state's survey of 42,000 California businesses. Nearly 2.3 million Californians were without work in October.
The number does not include the nearly 500,000 workers who have taken low- paying or part-time jobs because that's all they could find, or the 109,000 people who have given up looking for work, according to the state.
In Stanislaus County, the only two industries to add jobs from September to October were education or health services and government. Farming, manufacturing and construction took large losses.
Among those out of seasonal work was 19-year-old Evelyn Alvarez. The recent high school graduate worked in a cannery for the summer, but her job ended two weeks ago.
"I'm looking, but it's been tough; it's hard to get a call back," said Alvarez, who came to the EDD job fair with 8-month-old daughter Natalie and fellow cannery worker Luselena Campista.
The fair included about a dozen employers, including Goodwill, In-Shape Health Clubs and the U.S. Census Bureau. Job seekers could get application information for stores such as Radio Shack, Marshalls and Macy's.
"We're trying to get people jobs, any kind of jobs," said EDD manager Mary Mendoza, who helped organize the event at the department's downtown Modesto office. "With the high unemployment rate, we thought maybe we could offer some type of relief, at least with seasonal work from retail employers."
Many, such as U.S. Census Bureau recruiting assistant Jessica Quintero, left with a stack of résumés several inches thick. The bureau is hiring temporary census takers.
To perk up the event, which was funded by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, EDD officials handed out small raffle prizes.
Among the winners was former Gottschalks employee Ana Mangano. The Oakdale resident worked as a stock clerk in the retailer's Century Center branch in northeast Modesto for eight years before the company closed its doors for good this summer.
"I can't tell you how many jobs I've applied for," said Mangano, 40, holding up her prize of a cup of candy. "I'm optimistic. I know I will find something. And I won something already."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2284.