After hovering around 7 percent all year, the Nassau-Suffolk employment rate hit 7.5 percent in June, swelling the ranks of job-search networking groups.

The Long Island Breakfast Club, which caters to the middle-aged unemployed, has seen its ranks swell to about 170.

“A lot of people don’t know how to network,” said Dr. Juliana Opatich, a gynecologist who recently got a job at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine with the help of the Long Island Breakfast Club, whose meetings she still sometimes attends. “They were tunneled through college. They took a job, held onto a job for life. That’s not the case anymore.”

Bob Simmons, facilitator of the Job Guide Club in Plainview, said the unemployed aren’t the only ones attending networking groups for job seekers. He said 30 people attend his group’s meetings, including some working in jobs for which they feel overqualified.

Groups targeting particular industries also are gaining in popularity as the economy worsens.

“I started meeting a lot of marketing people. I said other job groups are good. But I need to be around people in my discipline going through the same thing as I am,” said Larry Drago, founder and chairman of the Long Island Marketing Job Seeker Group, which grew from a handful to 35. “We share information, strategies on job searching, where the job market is going.”

And groups targeting particular regions such as the Massapequa Jobs Club are attracting members.

While job search groups can’t always help people find work, they can provide encouragement.

“We support each other,” said Stephanie Carlino, vice president of the Long Island Breakfast Club and meeting and event planner. “We’ve all been in the same experience.”

And Steve Woloschin, a former Breakfast Club member who has since found a job as a software engineering manager at Motorola, said groups keep you from becoming isolated.

“It’s good to connect with other people when you’re in that situation for networking, morale and camaraderie,” Woloschin said. “You talk to people, find that there are other people in similar situations. You’re not alone.”

Valentina Janek, president of the Long Island Breakfast Club, said members who obtain jobs become helpful as advisors, examples and sources of leads.

“They stay even if they get a job, and they help other people get a job,” Janek said. “If someone says they have a job for a health care person, that person goes to the well, lets us know. It’s about paying it forward.”

Simmons said he’s built a Rolodex of about 1,600 people who went through his group and are a resource for current members.

“There’s all the network support,” Simmons added. “The majority of these people have landed new positions.”

But even if groups can help, Drago said there’s a danger that they can become complaining sessions dominated by jaded job seekers.

“It can depend on the crowd, whether it’s negative or positive,” he said.

And Drago said people in job-seeking groups typically are from the same region, which could limit their opportunities if they are solely focused on getting a job on Long Island.

“Some people in my group are looking at New York City and the East Coast (in general). Some are looking nationwide for positions,” said Drago. “It takes so much longer to get a job when you’re at a higher level. That’s why people expanded their geographic base.”

Woloschin, who worked for IBM for more than 20 years, said job seekers need to focus on improving themselves – and not simply finding people who share their situation.

“Some people, especially when they get into their 50s, just blame everybody for their demise,” he said. “I understood that you have to keep trying. You have to be persistent. You have to reinvent yourself.”

Woloschin went back to school for a master’s degree in technological systems management at Stony Brook University. Education, not consolation, made the bigger difference in the end.

“I had the best time of my life. Got a 4.0 GPA,” he said. “I got along with the department chairman, who told me he knows exactly why I’m there and can see it. A lot of the younger ones are there because they have to be there. He knew I wanted to be there.”

Read more: