Utah ranks 43rd among the 50 states in income per person, but it ranks 15th in income per household. How can this be?

Actually, as Sherlock Holmes would say, it's quite elementary. Because Utahns tend to have much larger families than average, their per-capita income is low ($20,246 is the state's median). However, Utah's median household income of $40,332, is the sixth fastest-growing in the nation.Perhaps the most important statistic in the Census Bureau data released last week is that Utah has the third-lowest poverty rate among the states. (The poverty threshold for a family of four in 1997 was $16,400 in annual income).

Only 8.3 percent of Utahns live in poverty, based on a three-year average for 1995, 1996 and 1997. That's the third lowest in the nation behind only New Hampshire (6.9 percent) and Alaska (8 percent).

Utah's poverty rate is nearly 40 percent lower than the national average of 13.6 percent. The state with the highest poverty rate is New Mexico at 24 percent.

Utah's per household income was 11 percent higher than the national median of $36,399. And even though the per-capita income is among the nation's worst, it is still an improvement over previous years. In 1993, for example, Utah ranked 48th in the nation. It has been climbing slightly since, going to 47th in 1994; 46th in 1995; 45th in 1996; and to 43rd this year.

So what does all the above mean?

Since the per-capita income increased while the population was growing fairly rapidly, it means Utah has a robust economy. Or put more simply, Utah is a good place to live.

Its qualities have made it, in a sense, like a magnet - drawing more and more things to it. How to handle those "things," which really amount to growth, is the subject of considerable debate in both the public and private sectors.

The massive transportation projects - I-15 reconstruction, light rail, proposed commuter rail and the proposed Legacy Highway - are a testament to the vitality of Utah. Another testament is the selection of Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

Utah's income statistics are going in the right direction. The key now is to keep them headed that way.