U.S. Census: More Connecticut families and children living below poverty level

More Connecticut families fell below the poverty level last year, with children hit particularly hard, as the state struggles to get to its feet in a tepid recovery, a new U.S. Census survey shows.

Nearly 15 percent of children in the state live in poverty, according to the Census, as does nearly 50 percent of Hartford children.

You don’t need to tell that to Matt Beard, director of operations for the House of Bread soup kitchen in Hartford. He’s seen a 15 percent uptick in the number of meals he has served at the Walnut Street headquarters the past two months alone.

“I’ve seen a lot of young adults on the streets than ever before and more children coming in with their families,” Beard said.

The kitchen, which also supplies 800 dinners for children at Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs around the city, recently had to turn down requests to serve to more clubs because it is at capacity.

“We do what we can,” he said.

The American Community Survey released Thursday shows that 10.9 percent of Connecticut families fell below the poverty level, defined as $23,021 for a family of four. That’s up from 10.1 percent the year before and is significantly higher than the 7.9 percent level in 2007.

The figures generally reflect national trends in the United States, where family poverty levels were slightly higher at 11.7 percent. New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate, at 8.8 percent, while Mississippi had the highest, at 22.6 percent.

In Connecticut, the percent of children under age 18 in poverty increased from 10.2 to 14.9 over the past decade, said Wade Gibson, a senior policy fellow at the advocacy group, Connecticut Voices for Children.

“The increase in child poverty is what stands out the most. It really is, at this point, a multi-year trend,” Gibson said.

Connecticut’s cities were particularly hard hit. In Hartford, the poverty rate was 36 percent for families and 47.9 percent for children. In Bridgeport, 25.7 percent of families and 39.9 percent of children live in poverty.

It is largely affecting a rapidly growing population of poor people in Connecticut who tend to be younger and from minority groups, he said.

“The concern for us is that this is who our next workforce is,” Gibson said. “If the economy in the whole state is to work, we’ve got to make sure we’re providing opportunities for everyone.”

He attributed the problem to the economy, combined with the loss of good manufacturing jobs, an increase in low-paying service jobs and the increasing importance of having a college degree.

Though the poverty level is rising, the survey also reveals that median family income and health insurance coverage in Connecticut overall are leveling out after years of decline. The median family income was $83,106 in 2011, about $700 lower than 2010. The income level in Connecticut has fallen by $5,255 since 2007.

“I think what we’re seeing in these figures is the result of a severe recession and a tepid recovery,” said Peter Gioia, chief economist for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

“It’s not surprising that these key factors of economic health are not doing relatively well because the biggest factor of the economy is employment. And jobs are still terribly lacking.”

This was underscored Thursday when the state Department of Labor released new figures showing that the state’s jobless rate rose from 8.5 percent to 9 percent, the largest one-month increase in 36 years.

The headwinds of international economic policy combined with gridlock in Washington are contributing to the slow recovery, Gioia said.

“Even before the election, it is imperative that the president and Congress decide to stop politicking and work together,” he said.

“They need to put aside partisanship to create stability and certainty for business investment. If they do that, there is enough money on the sidelines to power some recovery. Then consumer confidence will increase.”