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Income outpaces inflation nationwide, government says

Average income increased 4.8 percent last year, thanks in part to plentiful jobs.

The healthy U.S. economy lifted incomes faster than inflation in every state last year, with residents of Wyoming enjoying the fastest growth, the government reported Wednesday.

"Basically, it's entirely a function of this exorbitant job growth we've seen," said economist Richard Yamarone of Argus Research Corp.

Nationally, average income for America's 272.7-million people last year was $28,518, up 4.8 percent from 1998, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The figures include not only wages and salaries but also other sources of income, such as investment earnings and government benefits.

In Florida, per capita income was $28,023, up 4.4 percent from the previous year. That placed the state 18th in the survey.

Per capita income growth nationwide last year was actually a bit slower than the 4.9 percent increase in 1998.

"We don't consider the small decline to be at all worrisome," Yamarone said. "The figure is still extremely solid. We can expect consumers to spend their share of that increase and promote the economic expansion."

The inflation rate, as measured by the government's price index for personal consumption expenditures, increased to 1.6 percent in 1999. Factoring that in, Americans' buying power _ per capita income growth after inflation _ jumped 3.2 percent.

The record-breaking economy, now in its longest-ever streak of uninterrupted growth, has pulled the unemployment rate down to a 30-year low of 3.9 percent in April.

With plentiful jobs, rising incomes, stock market gains and low inflation, Americans have been in the buying mood, thus fueling the U.S. economy's red-hot growth. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity.

By state, per capita incomes in 1999 ranged from $39,167 in Connecticut to $20,506 in Mississippi. Growth rates in per capita income ranged from 7 percent in Wyoming to 2.5 percent in Alaska.

After Wyoming, the states with the fastest per capita income growth rates were Massachusetts, 6.7 percent; and Maine and Idaho, with 6.2 percent each.

In general, increased earnings from service-sector jobs, especially in finance, insurance and real estate, were the big forces behind high per capita income growth in those states.

Besides Alaska, other states with relatively slow per capita income growth last year included Louisiana, 2.6 percent; North Dakota, 2.7 percent; and West Virginia, 3.5 percent.

Weaker earnings from jobs in mining, construction, transportation and at public utilities contributed to those states' slower per capital income growth.

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