Even in affluent Fairfield County, unemployment numbers are looking grim. And it's not going to get better.

That's the sobering statistic offered by employment experts, and for the workforce population over 50 years of age, it will be up to them to reinvent themselves and restructure their skills in a sea of competition to get recognized by top employers.

"People are calling it a depression, because they are indeed depressed," said Jim Lisher, a career consultant who serves on a task force for the Connecticut State Workforce Board. "The older workers are having a hell of a time."

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Lisher was a speaker last Thursday night at a meeting of the New Canaan Career Transition Support group, a joint venture of volunteers from St. Mark's Church and the First Presbyterian Church in New Canaan. Lisher is a founding member of the group, which was formed in 1989 to help support those in career transition who are actively looking for work.

The meeting, held at St. Mark's, drew about 25 members of the community from different career paths, including professionals from the marketing, law, education and information technology fields.

Lisher started his presentation with sobering statistics about Connecticut's unemployment situation. He said Fairfield County's unemployment rate is at 8.6 percent, or about 34,447 people out of work. That includes Bridgeport, which has a rate hovering around 14 percent.

"The funny thing is that they declared the recession over in 2009, but that ain't gonna happen," he said. "It's not going to change in the next few years, so eat it, swallow it, and get on with your life."

The unemployment statistics become scarier for those over 50, a demographic that traditionally has been the most secure employee base -- as well as the highest paid -- because of their experience and skill sets, but due to governments and private companies slashing budgets the group is finding it increasingly hard to find work.

In addition, unless Congress votes to extend current unemployment benefits, so called "99ers," people who have been out of work 99 weeks or longer, will begin losing benefits. Lisher estimated that at year's end, more than 14,000 people -- 600 per week -- will lose unemployment income.

"That makes it a bit competitive out there," he said. "All of you have the capability of selling your services, even if it's just for beer money."

Mercer Field, a Wilton-based career counselor, offered a variety of job-hunting strategies geared toward the over-50 population to try to find meaningful work in this economy. They key, she said is to network. Most people, she said, don't do enough to meet people and let them know what their skills are. Job hunters should do whatever they can to meet people, even if it means to volunteer their services.

"It's a game and there are a lot of tactics to playing that game," she said. "You can either let it happen, or do something to make it not happen."

In addition to networking, Field said job hunters should concentrate on reading as much as they can to learn about their particular field and to develop a 30-second "elevator speech" about what they do and how they can help make a difference in a company, so that when an opportunity presents itself, they are ready to sell themselves.