The Baltimore region ranks No. 3 in a study released Wednesday comparing income growth across the nation.
The Portfolio.com "Uncovered" study, which looked at 100 U.S. metropolitan areas, analyzed 25 years of federal income data to calculate its rankings. El Paso, Texas, ranked first, with a 147 percent increase in income levels over the past 20 years. Rounding out the top 10 were Baton Rouge, La.; Baltimore; Virginia Beach- Norfolk, Va.; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; Oklahoma City; Little Rock, Ark.; Jackson, Miss.; and Honolulu.
The study used a 25-part formula to analyze the consistency and strength of per capita income (PCI) growth in each market. The formula compared each area's growth rates against the U.S. averages for 25 time spans, yielding an overall score for income growth. All 25 spans ended in 2009, ranging in length from 25 years (1984-2009) to a single year (2008-2009).
"It's refreshing to see that the cities with the best opportunities for income growth go beyond the major metros," said J. Jennings Moss, editor of Portfolio.com. "When you consider the current high rate of unemployment in this country, our study suggests that people may want to explore job opportunities or start businesses in smaller cities, like Baton Rouge and Oklahoma City, where income growth is higher and the economy has been relativity stable in comparison to other parts of the U.S."
El Paso, which ranks as the 99th lowest per capita income of $28,638, holds first place in 13 of the 25 time spans. Meanwhile, Bridgeport- Stamford, Conn., which had the highest PCI in 2009 ($73,720), ranks 33rd in the income growth index.
Most cities in the top 10 have 1 million or fewer inhabitants, except for Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Jackson has the lowest population among the top 10, at 540,866.
Larger metros did not rank high on the list. New York City, the area with the nation's highest population, ranks at No. 35; Los Angeles came in at No. 54; and Chicago at No. 73. The bottom three cities — Raleigh, N.C. at No. 98, Detroit at No. 99 and Atlanta at No. 100 — have been hurt by declining real estate prices and the erosion of the manufacturing industry, according to the study.
Portfolio.com is a business news site that caters to small and mid-sized business executives.