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UTAH STILL NEAR BOTTOM IN PER-CAPITA INCOME

Utah has never scored well in per-capita income levels released annually by the government and the latest report is no exception.

According to figures released by the Commerce Department Thursday, Utah ranked 19th in income growth in 1994, but per-capita income was $17,172 - a lowly 46th place overall. Only Mississippi at $15,793, Arkansas at $16,817, New Mexico at $17,025 and West Virginia at $17,094 had lower per-capita personal incomes last year than Utahns.Per capita income is the annual income of residents divided by a state's population.

Utah has never scored well in the rankings because of its high population growth and large family size, both of which tend to dilute the income levels on a per-capita basis.

But likely to be lost in the grousing on per-capita pay is the fact that Utah's 5 percent growth rate in per-capita income in 1994 over 1993 is nothing less than astonishing, said Kelly K. Matthews, chief economist for First Security Bank.

"That figure is really significant," he said. "We've been able to establish a very respectable income growth rate of 5 percent even though we have such a very large population growth rate which drags us down.

Matthews said a population growth rate of 2 percent instead of Utah's 3 percent, for example, would push per-capita income to 6 percent instead of 5 percent and Utah would leap from 19th in income growth to the top of the charts.

"A lot of people will point to that 46th ranking and beat up on us," said Matthews, "but the reality is it shows we are able to generate income fast even though we are spreading it on a bigger pie. We're way ahead of the game."

Nationally, per-capita personal incomes rose 4.3 percent in 1994, to $21,699, after growing 3.3 percent a year earlier. Population growth nationally is only about a fifth as high as Utah's.

Iowa had the fastest growth in personal incomes last year as farm earnings rebounded from heavy rains and flooding in 1993. People in Montana suffered the slowest growth as, ironically, farm incomes fell. In Iowa, per-capita personal incomes jumped 9.6 percent last year, to $20,176, after edging up just 0.8 percent in 1993 when wet weather swamped corn fields.

But farm incomes declined last year in Montana, holding per-capita incomes to $17,824, up just 1.1 percent from 1993 when incomes shot up 6.5 percent.

Per-capita incomes ranged from $29,044 in Connecticut to $15,793 in Mississippi. The District of Columbia, which also was included in the Commerce Department survey released Wednesday, actually had the largest per-capita income, $30,555, but it was not ranked.

The slowest growth was found in the West, where income gains in Alaska, California, Hawaii and Montana trailed inflation. Inflation, as measured by a special price index for personal consumption expenditures, was 2.4 percent.

Income growth in six states lagged behind the U.S. average by more than 1 percentage point. They included Washington, Wyoming, California and Montana, where farm income declined. Washington and California also were hurt by shrinking earnings in the aircraft industry.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.