Government studies often say Utahns are relatively poor. But new U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday looks at things differently, and says Utahns are actually among the wealthiest Americans.

It says Utah has the third-lowest poverty rate among the states. It has the 15th-best median income per household. And its household income is the sixth-fastest growing in the nation.That is in stark contrast to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data released just two weeks ago, suggesting Utah is among the poorer states but improving.

The difference is whether studies look at income per person or per household.

Because Utahns tend to have much larger families than average, their per-person income is low - with each wage earner supporting more people. But their average per household is still fairly high.

The economic analysis bureau released per-person data for 1997 two weeks ago - and said Utah ranked a low 43rd among the 50 states with a per-capita median income of $20,246. But that was an improvement because it had ranked 48th just five years ago.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau released new per-household data Thursday - and says Utah ranked 15th among the states in 1996-97 with a median household income of $40,332.

That was up $2,178 from the 1995-96 average of $38,154. That increase was the sixth best in the nation in terms of actual dollars per household and eighth best by percentage.

The Census Bureau also said that only 8.3 percent of Utahns live in poverty, based on a three-year average for 1995, 1996 and 1997.

That was the third lowest in the nation behind only New Hampshire (6.9 percent) and Alaska (8 percent).

Utah's poverty rate then was also nearly 40 percent lower than the national average of 13.6 percent. The state with the worst poverty rate was New Mexico at 24 percent.

The new data also shows the unusual fact that Utah is far above national average in per household income but far below average in per-person income because of its large families.

The Census Bureau said Utah's per household income was 11 percent higher than the national median of $36,399. The Bureau of Economic Analysis earlier reported that Utah's per person income was 20 percent lower than the national median of $25,298.

The Census Bureau also reported that Utah was among only 12 states where per-household income increased by statistically significant amounts between 1995-96 and 1996-97. Income decreased sig-nif-i-cant-ly in four other states.

The states with such increases besides Utah, where it increased 5.7 percent, were: Alabama, 1.5 percent; Delaware, 8.1 percent; Indiana, 1.5; Kansas, 6.9; Louisiana, 6.3; New Mexico, 5.1; North Carolina, 3.1; Oklahoma, 6.5; South Carolina, 5.5; Virginia, 6.1 and Washington, 9.5.

Among other major findings nationally in the new census data were:

- All regions except the Northeast had significant increases in median household income between 1996 and 1997.

- 1997 was the fourth consecutive year that U.S. family households had an annual increase in real median income.

- The median household income for whites rose 2.5 percent in 1997; 4.3 percent for blacks; 4.5 percent for Hispanics; and for Asians and Pacific islanders, no statistically significant increase was found.

- The proportion of the U.S. population living below the poverty line declined from 13.7 percent in 1996 to 13.3 percent in 1997 - mostly from declines in the number of blacks and Hispanics living in poverty. (The poverty threshold for a family of four in 1997 was $16,400 in annual income).

- The number of poor people in the United States was 35.6 million, statistically unchanged from 1996.

- The 1997 poverty rate for children nationally was 19.9 percent; for adults ages 18 to 64 it was 10.9 percent; and for seniors older than 64 it was 10.5 percent.