A foreclosure sign in front of a house for sale  in Stockton, Calif.
A foreclosure sign in front of a house for sale in Stockton, Calif. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: The year-end real-estate numbers for 2009 are in, and they broke all kinds of records -- not necessarily good ones. The California-based data firm RealtyTrac says 2.8 million properties fell into some kind of foreclosure action last year. But if you're thinking right about now -- whew, at least 2009 is behind us -- yeah, don't think that way.

Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.

BOB MOON: RealtyTrac's Rick Sharga has his eyes on the relatively new plight of three states, in particular, because they help explain why the foreclosure mess is getting worse in spite of all the programs to fix it.

RICK SHARGA: We have three that are in the top 10 that didn't appear there, or anywhere near there, a year ago -- in Idaho, Utah and Illinois. And those are really the states that are one the first wave of problems driven by unemployment rates, as opposed to bad loans.

In other words, the newer foreclosures have less to with adjusting payments to make the homes affordable, and more to do with the ever rising unemployment rate, which passed 10 percent at the end of the year.

BRIDGETTE MILES: I'm an attorney, bilingual, and I have 10 years of experience. It's the sort of thing where you think you've prepared yourself to have a little bit of security.

Bridgette Miles hasn't been able to make her house payment since last February, after she lost her job in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. She just recently found work again, but has had to admit to herself that she doesn't make enough now to pay her mortgage.

MILES: I've done a few calculations, and I don't believe I would be able to afford it, even if they modified it. So I'm just saving up my pennies to rent.

All over America, homeowners are finding loan modifications aren't always enough. But at the big housing counseling group NeighborWorks, Marietta Rodriquez says homeowners shouldn't give up hope, even if they are out of work.

MARIETTA RODRIGUEZ: Does it make a financial institution more apt to modify that loan if they see income? Absolutely. But I've also seen many instances where the financial institution was willing to forebear on that loan, while the person got re-employed.

Rodriquez says that still means a race to find work before unemployment benefits run out, which is why she says extending those benefits has become a critical part of keeping people in their homes.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.