The New Economy may be headquartered in the West, but the nation's wealthiest counties are still concentrated in bastions of old money in the East.
In a study released Tuesday, researchers found that 20 of the wealthiest counties, as measured by per-capita income, are east of the Mississippi, mostly on the East Coast.
Three Bay Area counties made the top 25, but Southern California was far down the list, according to a survey by the Washington market research firm Woods & Poole Economics.
Even Orange County, the most affluent area in the Southland, came in 90th with per-capita income of $34,035.
Many of the high-earning counties on the East Coast are in or near New York City, said economist John Husing of Economics & Politics Inc., an economic forecasting firm in Highland.
"You've got the political capital of the universe in Washington, the financial capital of the universe in New York and in [the Bay Area] you've got the Internet capital of the universe," Husing said.
In addition, California is home to nearly a third of the nation's immigrants, who, like those migrating here from other parts of the nation, tend to be younger and to earn less than longer-term residents, experts said.
Topping the annual list was New York County, which includes Manhattan, with an average annual per-capita income of $69,157. New England and Atlantic Coast counties, where old wealth resides with America Online, filled out most of the rest of the list.
Los Angeles County ranked 252nd with average earnings of $28,833 per person. San Diego County came in 278th with $28,462 per person. Income per capita includes earnings, wages and salaries, property income and rental income.
Northern California counties, long a seat of wealth statewide, made it into the top echelon, led by Marin County, which is ranked second nationwide with per-capita income of $54,608. San Francisco was 13th at $45,694, and San Mateo is 20th on the list with $43,884.
Statewide, California's average per-capita income is $29,394, slightly above the $28,309 national average.
Woods & Poole projected per-capita rankings this year for 3,000 counties based on earlier figures from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
While high-tech centers in Northern California and elsewhere have crept up the list since the 1970s, changes tend to emerge gradually, said Martin Holdrich, senior economist at Woods & Poole. Even the wealth generated by giant Microsoft Corp. hasn't moved its home base, King County in Washington state, to the top. The county ranks 30th.
The only urban counties in the top 25 were New York and San Francisco. Most of the others are bedroom communities outside major cities, including seven counties near New York City, four from the suburbs of Washington and two outside of Chicago.
The gap between the Los Angeles Basin and the Bay Area will remain through 2010, according to growth projections by the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.
The center also predicts that Orange County income growth will far outpace Los Angeles County's rate for the next decade, with Orange County per-capita income reaching $38,378 and Los Angeles residents reaching $30,717 per person.
The early 1990s recession set Los Angeles County back significantly compared to Orange County, said Daniel Fleming, an economist with Economic Roundtable in Los Angeles, a nonprofit public research group.
Even though Orange County went into devastating bankruptcy, it was less dependent on defense than Los Angeles and suffered less, he said.
"Certainly the recession, combined with the decimation of the aerospace industry, was very damaging for L.A. County," Fleming said. "We had a net 'out' migration approaching a million residents of the county, and an 'in' migration of many new workers who entered less-skilled jobs."
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The wealthiest U.S. counties by per capita income:
(California counties with *)
Rank County Avg. 1 New York County, N.Y. $69,157 2 Marin County* $54,608 3 Pitkin County, Colo $54,076 4 Fairfield County, Conn $53,474 5 Somerset County, N.J. $51,605 6 Alexandria County, Va. $50,752 7 Westchester County, N.y. $50,402 8 Morris County, N.J. $49,640 9 Bergen County, N.J. $48,137 10 Arlington County, Va. $47,252 13 San Francisco County* $45,694 20 San Mateo County* $43,884 90 Orange County* $34,035 252 Los Angeles County* $28,833 278 San Diego County* $28,462
Source: Woods & Poole Economics Inc.