The bad news is that per-person income in the Provo-Orem area is the fifth-worst among the nation's 320 largest metropolitan areas - with only a handful of poorer areas near the Texas-Mexico border.

The good news is that Utah County's per capita income is increasing at a rate 28 percent faster than the national average, according to new statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.Large families and thousands of Brigham Young University students account for the area's low ranking. "People need to realize that we have a population of about 88,000 people, and 20,000 are BYU students without any income," said Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins.

"With the very large families that typically occur here, it's not surprising," said Rulon D. Pope, a BYU economics professor.

Both Pope and Jenkins said Provo-Orem would fare much better if it were measured by average family household income.

The per capita income in the Salt Lake City-Ogden area rated 61st-worst among the 320 largest metropolitan areas. It increased about the same rate as the national average.

The figures released are for 1989, when the bureau said the average per capita income nationally increased 6.6 percent from $16,510 to $17,592 (See accompanying chart).

But in the Provo-Orem area, per capita income increased 9.5 percent from $10,203 to $11,171. That meant the per capita income there was 36.5 percent below the national average.

Per capita income is figured by dividing the total personal income of an area by the number of residents there. Utah often comes out low because its family size is larger than the national average - meaning each income earner supports more people.

The per capita income in Salt Lake City increased 6.5 percent from $13,104 in 1988 to $13,962 in 1989. That figure is still about 21 percent below the national average per capita income.

The bureau reported that Salt Lake-Ogden residents' combined total personal income rose 7.9 percent from $13.96 billion to $15.06 billion - a rate slightly higher than the national average of 7.6 percent.

The total personal income in Provo-Orem increased a whopping 9.9 percent from $2.48 billion to $2.72 billion, the bureau said.

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(Additional information)

Big families, students skew numbers

Per capita income* in America's 320 largest metro areas:

1. Brigdeport-Stamford-Norwalk-Danbury, Conn. $31,438

2. San Francisco, Calif. $28,170

3. Bergen-Passaic, N.J. $27,374

NATIONAL AVERAGE $17,592

259. Salt Lake City-Ogden $13,962

316. Provo-Orem $11,171

317. El Paso, Texas $10,735

318. Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas $8,435

319. Laredo, Texas $8,043

320. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas $7,814

*1989 figures

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis