U.S. Census data released Tuesday shows that the number of families living in poverty in the state rose sharply in the last decade, with most of the increase occurring in the last two years.

Statistics from the American Community Survey show that in 2009, 9.4 percent of the state’s overall population (320,554 people) had a household income below the poverty level and 12.1 percent of children (96,893) were living in poverty. Under federal guidelines, the poverty level for a two-parent household with two children is $21,756.

The statistics, which also include estimates of uninsured residents in the state, underscores the importance of continued support for poor families, said Jamey Bell, executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven based policy and advocacy group.

“We cannot undercut this support for struggling families at a time when they need it the most,” said Bell. “We hope this inspires policy makes to continue support both at the federal and state level.”

Connecticut Voices highlighted the data Tuesday as part of its ongoing tracking of poverty, income and health insurance trends in the state. The American Community Survey is based on a sampling of the population of cities with a population of 65,000 or more. It estimates poverty, median income and health insurance coverage for the nation state and the eight largest cities in the state:  Bridgeport, Danbury, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and Waterbury.

Nationwide, the survey estimated that 14.3 percent of all Americans (42.9 million) live in poverty, while 20 percent of children (14.7 million) fall under the poverty line. In Connecticut, the poverty rate was essentially static, according to the survey, but in the previous year, 2007-2008, the state had the highest increase in poverty in the nation.

The recession is the likely cause of the sharp rise over the last two years, said Michael Sullivan, a spokesman with Connecticut Voices for Children. From 2001 to 2009, overall poverty in the state rose from 7.4 to 9.4 percent, he said. Three quarters of that increase, or 1.5 percent, occurred between 2007 and 2009, Sullivan said.

Hartford ranked first among the eight cities in the state included in the community survey for both adults and children living below the poverty level. New Britain ranked third. In the capitol city, 31.9 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, while 39.2 percent of children fall into that category. In New Britain, 23 percent of the overall population lives in poverty and 35.7 percent of children.

Of the other cities in the survey, Norwalk showed a significant increase in poverty from 2008 to 2009. The child poverty rate also significantly increased among resident of New London Country in those years while the rate for residents of Windham Country decreased.

As for health insurance, the survey showed that 8.8 percent of Connecticut residents (305,210) were without it at the time the survey was taken. An estimated 3.8 percent of children under 18 (30,433) were uninsured at the time of the 2009 survey, a significant decrease from 4.6 percent in 2008.

“Clearly HUSKY is doing the job,” Sharon Langer, of Connecticut Voices, said. “We need to support what is working.”

Connecticut Voices and other groups are calling upon state and federal policy makers to avoid state budget cuts that would worsen the impact of poverty and to maintain federal supports that the group credited with helping to keep many families out of poverty. The effect of the recession would have been worse without the subsidized job placements, extended unemployment benefits, tax credits, nutrition assistance and other support provided by federal stimulus funds. Advocates are calling for an extension of that funding, which is scheduled to expire in the coming months.

“The increase in poverty is not only bad news for our children and families but for the state’s economic future,” said Jim Horan, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “The numbers show that the achievement gap is strongly correlated with poverty. Growing poverty will only widen the …gap and leave our state ill-equipped to compete in the global economy.”

“Community Action agencies have been providing increased support to individuals and families as they struggle to survive in the worst economy our state has seen since the Great Depression,” said Edith Karsky, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Community Action, whose member agencies have seen a 30 percent increase in caseloads in the past two years.

Lawmakers need to take a balanced approach to the state budget that includes new revenues to help support families when they need it most, said Bell, of Connecticut Voices.

“We hope federal support will continue and that policy makers will continue to see that necessity until states can shoulder the cost of these programs,” Bell said. “If federal support ends, Connecticut policy makers need to continue to support these families so the rug is not pulled out from under them before they are able to get back on their feet.”