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BOZEMAN (AP) - A study by a pair of Washington, D.C., think tanks has found another economic category for Montana to rank last in.

Montana has the poorest rich people in the United States.

The richest 20 percent of Montana families had an average annual income of $103,700 between 1998 and 2000. That's 41 percent less than the national average of $145,985 for the top 20 percent.

It's barely half the average for the District of Columbia, which tops the list at $203,185.

However, Montana does not have the poorest poor. That distinction also goes to the nation's capital, where the lowest 20 percent had an average income of $9,398.

The poorest 20 percent of families in the Treasure State earned an average of $11,667 yearly in the same period, 25 percent below the national average.

While Montana may have the nation's poorest rich people, a few states have poorer poor people.

Louisiana, New Mexico and West Virginia posted lower earnings than Montana's for the bottom 20 percent of family incomes.

The figures come from an April report, "Pulling Apart," written by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, both of which advocate spreading the wealth more evenly.

All figures are in inflation-adjusted 1999 dollars.

"In all but five states, income inequality has increased over the past 20 years," the report says. "Prior to the late 1970s, economic growth in the United States was more evenly shared."

The report looks at statistics from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, focusing mostly on information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Paul Polzin, head economist at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, was not surprised at the state's rankings.

Montana's low wages, he said, "are not news."

However, he also cautioned that the figures are not all-inclusive.

"Wealth is not included," he said. "This is just income."

Also, noncash income such as housing assistance, food stamps and other types of welfare are not included in the figures for the bottom 20 percent.

The report also notes that it does not include figures for capital gains, executive bonuses or other types of income typically enjoyed by high-wage earners.

Montana's neighbor states all ranked higher than Montana in both the poorest and richest 20 percent of their family incomes. The poorest 20 percent in Wyoming averaged $14,867 and the richest, $116,984. In Idaho the figures were $13,971 and $118,703; North Dakota $13,210 and $109,045; and South Dakota $16,845 and $120,705.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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