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“This is a typical situation where the unemployment rate starts turning around and indicates we’re heading in the right direction, but as far as how it affects individuals, it takes a while to catch up,” Mr. Barker said.

Whether it took years to wear down a hard-wired reticence to seek help from the government or to exhaust a rainy-day fund, there were unmistakable signs that years after the housing bubble burst and the stock market spiraled, a new segment of the middle class is seeking financial assistance for the first time.

In nearly every county in Maryland and Virginia, more of the population collected food stamps than in 2009. In Montgomery County, one in 20 collected food stamps last year — double the number of a few years prior. The bleeding did not slow in the year between 2009 and 2010; it got worse.

Most of Thursday’s economic statistics for the area were buoyed by the District, which saw a rare increase in income and fewer poverty indicators.

Megan Cairns, 23, couldn’t find a job in her chosen field after college, so she joined AmeriCorps.

“I don’t think I would have done it otherwise,” she said.

Now she spends her days helping the needy at Bread for the City, but at a stipend of $800 per month she can hardly afford food herself. She saw another AmeriCorps member with a food-stamps application and found out that though they work full time, their income level qualifies them for the program.

“It’s kind of a new experience for me,” she said as she waited for her name to be called to apply at a human-services center in Northeast Washington. “Probably a lot of people from a middle-class background don’t know about the social services. This is an intimidating process.”