Marylanders' total income outpaced inflation for the first time since the fall of 1990, the government said yesterday, sparking some economists to claim the state might be finally working its way out of the recession.
A report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Commerce indicated that total personal income earned by Marylanders in the first quarter of the year was 1.15 percent higher than the total income earned in the previous quarter.
That means Marylanders' income was growing at about a 4.6 percent annual rate, which was faster than the current 3 percent national inflation rate.
It was the first time that income in the state outpaced inflation since the recession began, said Charles McMillion, an economist in Washington who studies the region.
"Maryland's recession ended in early 1992," he said. "The first quarter was the best Maryland had in a long time . . . and April was terrific."
His studies indicate the economy faltered somewhat in May and June, but he doubted Maryland would slip back into recession.
"We will continue to sputter along," he said.
Mr. McMillion warned that Marylanders might not notice the improvement right away, however.
Although total income earned in the state was up because of an increase in population and jobs, income earned by individuals might continue to lag behind inflation, he said.
Michael Conte, director of the France Center for Business and Economic Studies at the University of Baltimore, said he was also seeing signs of a local pickup in the economy. His studies indicate, Mr. Conte said, that the troubled real estate and automobile industries have been rebounding recently, for example.
But he, too, warned that since Maryland was hit much harder by the recession than most states in 1990 and 1991, "we still haven't regained our position."
While Marylanders' income grew in the first three months of the year, it wasn't enough to make up for losses in the past 12 months. Indeed, the state's income in the first three months of 1992 was only 2.6 percent ahead of first-quarter income in 1991. After subtracting a 3 percent inflation rate, Maryland earned slightly less in real income.
The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis said only three states did worse than Maryland in the year-to-year comparison of personal income: Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island.
Recession-socked Massachusetts matched Maryland's income rate.
Maryland trailed the mid-Atlantic region, which reported a 3.3 percent increase, and a slight gain in real income.
This was the sixth straight quarter that Marylanders' real incomes were below their level of the previous year's quarter.
Though Maryland failed to keep up with inflation, incomes here remained high. Marylanders have the nation's fifth-highest per capita income.
Almost all Eastern states lagged the national rate of a 4.1 percent increase.
But residents of rural and Western states appeared to bounce back strongly from the recession. Idaho led the nation with a 7.3 percent increase in personal income in the year-over-year comparison.
Rudolph E. DePass, an analyst for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, said the nation's coastal areas suffered, in part, from military cutbacks, the effects of overbuilding and industry restructuring.
He said the troubled states tended to suffer from declines in construction and manufacturing payrolls.
But the winners saw payrolls rebound in construction, manufacturing and services.
Personal income is defined as all pretax wages, dividends and interest. Social Security payments are not counted.