California's battered job market won't escape double-digit unemployment rates until at least 2013 -- although the Bay Area will likely lead the road to recovery, economists said.

The UCLA Anderson Forecast, in a report prepared for release Wednesday, said the California jobless rate won't fall below 10 percent until sometime in the first three months of 2013.

"Things are a little weaker than we predicted," said Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist with the Anderson Forecast.

In January, California's jobless rate was 12.4 percent, close to a postwar record high. The Anderson economists think that California will be mired in jobless rates of at least 10 percent for all of 2011 and 2012.

"We had been forecasting a little more job growth than what actually happened," Nickelsburg said.

In a report released in December, the Anderson Forecast had predicted that California would drop below 10 percent during the final three months of 2012. The latest assessment has pushed that back a few months.

"The improvements we were forecasting, dismal though they were, were not quite dismal enough," Nickelsburg wrote in his report for the quarterly forecast.

Part of the challenge that confronts California is the depth of the canyon into which the statewide economy has plunged.

From July 2007, when the California job market peaked at record highs, the state has lost 1.24 million jobs, according to seasonally adjusted figures released by the Employment Development Department.

In contrast, during the year that ended in January, California added 102,000 payroll jobs. That's an average of 8,500 jobs gained per month over that one-year period, the EDD figures show.

At that pace, California will require slightly more than 12 years to recapture those 1.2 million jobs that have vanished.

Still, as feeble as the current pace of job creation is at present, that's far better than the rate of job growth during the fall.

In October, California was creating a microscopic 400 jobs per month. At that nearly nonexistent pace, it would have taken about 264 years for California to recapture its vanished jobs.

The Anderson Forecast's lengthening time horizon for recovery makes sense, said Brad Kemp, a regional economist with Beacon Economics.

"We're looking at an 8 percent jobless rate by around 2015," he said. "It seems reasonable that we will be getting out of double digits by sometime in 2013."

Nevertheless, the Bay Area is poised to be a leader in whatever rebound materializes in California, analysts said.

"We expect the Bay Area to recover more quickly," Nickelsburg said. "This recovery will be led by exports. California's leading exports by value are in high-tech and electronics. And those are two things that the Bay Area does disproportionately well compared with the rest of the state."

Kemp agreed that the Bay Area and Orange County, another tech-influenced region, are in better shape than California to crawl out of the economic fissure.

"The recovery will come not from jobs, but more from business investment, and it will come from business investment in technology and efficiency," he said. "Businesses are already asking people to do more with less. And they will use hardware and software to achieve that."

Businesses may hope to deploy additional tech gear to help existing employees handle more tasks or be more efficient.

"A company can keep their existing work force and avoid hiring more people," Kemp said.

Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477.