Despite bursts of inflation, unemployment and occasional hard times, personal income in the United States rose substantially faster than prices over the decade of the 1970s, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis reported yesterday.

And while some of the steepest rises were in the economically burgeoning Sun Belt states, people in the Northeast and Far West still have far higher per capita incomes than in the South, though the gap is narrowing.

The BEA figures demonstrate that over the long-term period 1969-78, there the long-term period 1969-78, there was a considerable improvement in personal prosperity. Over those years, average personal income in the United States rose by 113.7 percent, reaching a per capita figure of $7,836 in 1978, while consumer prices rose 70 percent. This means that in real terms, income grew a little more than 4 percent per year.

In the continental United States, the District of Columbia had the highest per capita personal income in 1978, $9,924, and Nevada was second at $9,439. But the District's high figure is misleading because cities usually have high income compared to rural areas and the District hasn't any countryside. The figure for Maryland was $8,363, and for Virginia, $7,671.

The BEA figures show that the states with the fastest personal income growth per capita were mainly in the South and West, while the ones with the slowest were mainly in the Northeast.

Nevertheless, the Sun Belt still has a long way to go to overcome past economic inferiority and catch up with the North in personal income.

Thus, while personal income growth was slowest in New York and highest in some of the southeastern states, New York's per capita personal income in 1978 was $8,224, much higher than that of any southeastern state.

And even the Great Lakes and New England regions, often cited as "older, decaying areas" of the country, were substantially higher in per capita personal income than the Southeast, which remained at the bottom of the heap despite closing some of the margin through new economic development.

The regions stacked up as follows in personal income per capita in 1978, the BEA reported: [CHART OMITTED]

Personal income is the income that goes to individuals through private and government salaries, income from farms and businesses, interest, dividends, rents, Social Security, unemployment, welfare and pension payments. It is measured before deduction of income taxes but Social Security payroll taxes are deducted from the totals. The per capita figure is reached by dividing the total of all personal income by total population.