Region's average income: $43,500

The Baltimore Sun

Local incomes rose less quickly last year than they did in 2005, but the Baltimore metro area held on to its distinction as one of the richest regions in the country.

Personal income in the metro area added up to $43,500 for every man, woman and child last year, according to preliminary numbers released yesterday by the Commerce Department. That ranked the region 21st out of the nation's 363 metropolitan regions.

Metropolitan Baltimore's income rose about 5.4 percent per person last year, not accounting for the effects of inflation - about the same as the country overall. In 2005, local incomes increased 5.9 percent, significantly above average at the time.

The federal government includes Queen Anne's County in the metropolitan area, along with Baltimore City, Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

Mark Vitner, senior economist at financial services firm Wachovia Corp., speculates that layoffs in residential construction and a slowdown in the growth of federal spending are to blame for smaller income increases in the area last year. But it's still strong growth, he said.

"The Baltimore economy is becoming much more like Washington, D.C., or at least the suburban Washington, D.C., economy," he said.

The Washington metro area - ranked fifth in the country for per-capita personal income, at $51,200 - influences Baltimore by dint of proximity. Many people who live here work there. Federal contracting jobs also have spread farther out as companies searched for cheaper rents, Vitner said.

Both trends have helped the Baltimore metro area become increasingly white-collar in the last generation. Incomes reflect that. The region ranked 48th in the nation in 1980 in per capita income and now ranks 21st.

Such overall affluence hides disparities, though.

Howard is one of the richest counties in the nation. Baltimore City, with its swaths of poverty, is below average.

And the region can't compare with the nation's richest metro area - Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., within commuting distance of New York City. Personal income there last year amounted to $71,900 for every man, woman and child. That's 65 percent more than the Baltimore region's tally. "You've got a lot of people who make a pretty good income [here], but you don't have the rich people who live near New York," said John McClain, senior fellow at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

Richest metro areas

Per-capita personal income, 2006

1. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. - $71,900

2. San Francisco - $55,800

3. San Jose, Calif. - $53,500

4. Naples, Fla. - $53,300

5. Washington - $51,200

21. Baltimore - $43,500

[Source: Department of Commerce preliminary data]

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