Utah is continuing to climb steadily out of the cellar among the states when it comes to income per person.

Utah's average per capita income in 1997 was $20,432 - or 44th among the states, according to estimates released Monday by the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis.But 44th of 50 is good for a state that for decades finished at or near the bottom of such rankings - thanks to its double whammy of historically low wages coupled with large family sizes.

That has changed recently, and Utah now has climbed up one spot a year in such ratings since 1993 when it was ranked 48th. In 1994, it crawled up to 47th. In 1995, it inched up to 46th. And in 1996, it climbed to 45th. Now it is 44th.

And Utah is approaching six other states, whose leads in the ratings over it are now slim.

States close to Utah's $20,432 average are: Idaho ($20,478); Oklahoma ($20,556); Kentucky, ($20,657); Louisiana ($20,680); South Carolina ($20,755); and Alabama ($20,842).

"Utah is among some of the states that have been growing very steadily, even though it is below the U.S. average" for total per capita income, said BEA analyst Duke Tran.

Although 1997 figures are not yet available, Utah fares better in other measures of income. For example, Utah ranks 26th among states for its 1996 per household income of $61,305 and 34th in is average annual pay per job of $24,572. The latter measure includes only wages and not all sources of income.

The average per capita income in America last year was $25,598 - or $5,166 (and 25 percent) high-er than in Utah.

The highest average per capita income among the states was $36,263 in Connecticut. The lowest was $18,272 in Mississippi.

Utah is among the leaders nationally, however, with the fastest rates of growth from 1996 to 1997. Utah's was 7.6 percent - or fourth best in the nation behind Texas (7.9 percent), Nevada (7.7 percent) and Arizona (7.7 percent).

"A good sign for Utah is that not only is income growing, so is its pop-u-lation," Tran said.

He explained that per capita income is determined by dividing total personal income in a state by its population. "Some places, like the District of Columbia, for example, had per capita income grow - but only because the population decreased. Personal income didn't grow.

"But in Utah, but factors are increasing. That means more people are moving in and more jobs are being created," he said.

The BEA estimated the combined personal income of all Utahns in 1997 was $42.07 billion, up from $39.1 billion in 1996. It estimated its population at 2.06 million in 1997, up from 2.02 million in 1996.

The BEA estimates include income not only from wages, but such sources as investment interest, dividends, rents and government payments.

The BEA noted that in Utah, "earnings in government and retail trade contributed substantially" to recent gains.

It said income from government salaries increased $363 million in Utah in 1997, and those in retail trade increased by $302 million. Increases in other key industries included $881 million in services, $241 million in manufacturing, $222 million in construction and $156 million in transportation and utilities.

The only major industry in Utah where overall income was reported to decrease was in farming - where it dropped by $47 million statewide.

States that now rank below Utah's $20,432 average per capita income are: North Dakota ($20,271); Montana ($20,046); New Mexico ($19,587); Arkansas ($19,585); West Virginia ($18,957); and Mississippi ($18,272).

States with top rankings for per capita income are: Connecticut ($36,263); New Jersey ($32,654); Massachusetts ($31,524); New York ($30,752); and Delaware ($29,022).

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Additional Information

Income

1997 stgate per capita Income

Top Ten States

1. Connecticut $36,263

2. New Jersey $32,654

3. Massachusetts $31,524

4. New York $30.752

5. Delaware $29,022

6. Maryland $28,969

7. Illinois $28,202

8. New Hampshire $28,047

9. Colorado $27,051

10. Minnesota $26,797

U.S. Average $25,598

Bottom Ten States

1. Kentucky $20.657

2. Oklahoma $20,556

3. Idaho $20,478

4. Utah $20,432

5. North Dakota $20,271

6. Montana $20,046

7. New Mexico $19,587

8. Arkansas $19,585

9. West Virginia $18,957

10. Mississippi $18,272

Source: Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis.