Median household earnings in the East Bay declined by more than $3,000 over the two years of the recession, according to census figures released Tuesday.

Unemployment skyrocketed, and those who kept working in the region did it for fewer hours each week. Households grew more crowded as families stuck together. Property values dropped sharply. Fewer women gave birth.

The numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau illustrate the wide impact of two years of recession on the lives of the East Bay's roughly 2.5 million people.

The impact was broad, but for some sectors of society the recession was truly devastating.

"It's easy to look at the economy as a real big problem for everybody, which it is," said Katharine Miller, spokeswoman for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County, which assists the needy. "But if you were in dire straits before, and had some stumbling blocks, now those are mountains."

Oakland resident James Smith finally got a job this year, earning $10.50 an hour, four days a week working for St. Vincent de Paul's facility in Livermore. But it took a long time, and it would not have happened without local advocates reaching out to help him, he said.

"For a while, I was online 24/7," said Smith, 45. "I filled out literally 150 applications."

It helped that Smith is a former Marine with years of varied job experience. It hurt that he spent five years in prison on a felony assault conviction after a bar fight in Southern California. He is an affable and dedicated worker, but competes in a tough East Bay economy against thousands of workers who have more experience, college degrees and no criminal record, he said.

The proportion of East Bay residents living in poverty did not change significantly in recent years, according to the census statistics, but that was of little consolation to local organizations that work with the poor, because the federal poverty level does not take the Bay Area's higher cost of living into account.

With the average gross rent at $1,303 per month, the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metropolitan area tied with the Washington, D.C., region as the second most expensive rental market in the country, according to the statistics. The only place higher was Silicon Valley, where rents average $1,414 per month.

About 10.7 percent of Alameda County residents and 9.6 percent of Contra Costa County residents were living beneath the poverty line. For a single person living alone, being poor means making less than $11,000 a year -- for a family of four, it's about $22,000.

Most East Bay families need twice that amount to make ends meet locally, said Jenny Lin, research director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy. Lin considers a family of four making an income of less than $44,000 to be living in economic hardship.

Using Lin's measure on the latest census statistics finds more than a half-million East Bay residents, or 25 percent of the total population, living in economic hardship.

The rise in unemployment, while not surprising given the wealth of information about unemployment already available, was the most troubling data for local organizations that work with the poor. It's not just unemployment, but underemployment -- the lack of full-time jobs that can pay all the bills -- that is a problem, Lin said. Two out of five of those in poverty locally are actually working, Lin said.

"That informs the food bank that the end is not necessarily near," said Allison Pratt, research director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. "Every day at the food bank people are calling us for the first time. These are working-class people who never imagined they'd be calling a food bank in their darkest hours."

Median household income in Alameda County dropped to $68,405 last year from $71,113 in 2007. Median household income in Contra Costa County dropped to $75,139 last year from $78,869 in 2007. The numbers reflect 2009 inflation-adjusted dollars.

The median home value in Alameda County dropped to $507,400 last year from $603,500 in 2008 and $674,200 in 2007. The median home value in Contra Costa County dropped to $424,500 last year from $542,900 in 2008 and $643,600 in 2007.

BY THE NUMBERS
East Bay in 2009:
10.7: Percentage of Alameda County residents living below poverty line.
9.6: Percentage of Contra Costa County residents living below poverty line.
4.8: Percentage of Alameda County residents receiving food stamps, up from 3.4 percent in 2007.
3.9: Percentage of Contra Costa County residents receiving food stamps, up from 2.7 percent in 2007
$68,405: Median household income in Alameda County, down from $71,113 in 2007.
$75,139: Median household income in Contra Costa County, down from $78,869 in 2007.
About the data: The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey is an annual survey of about 3 million Americans. The survey results from 2009 are estimates and are different from the results of the once-a-decade census. The results of the full 2010 census will be released next year but will feature less information about socioeconomics, because fewer questions were asked.