How bad will jobless figures get for valley?

The job losses that have crippled the Northern San Joaquin Valley could get worse before there's any improvement, some labor analysts predict.

Just how much worse, if any, everyone will know today when the state Economic Development Department releases its unemployment rates for valley counties and the rest of the state.

In Stanislaus County, that number stands at a staggering 19.1 percent, the highest since February 1993.

That unemployment rate translates into 45,400 residents out of work in an economy that's still struggling from the nationwide recession and regional real estate meltdown.

The question now is: How much higher will it go? Some think 20 percent is possible.

Business closures and impending layoffs of government workers likely will depress the typical ag-related employment upswing that begins in March and April.

"It'll take years, years for this area (to recover)," Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the Univer- sity of the Pacific, said recently. "I don't see any prospects of breaking out of the teens (unemployment rates) for at least three years, probably longer."

But for now, all eyes are on the present — unemployment numbers being released today. Many would consider a small increase, or any decline, a very good sign.