MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -The new millennium dawned in northern New England with incomes dropping in Maine, rising sharply in New Hampshire and inching upward in Vermont, newly released U.S. Census data show.

An Associated Press analysis of Census data released Thursday compared median household incomes in 1998 through 2000 with the first three years of the new millennium, 2001 to 2003. The data also showed that the percentage of Vermont and Maine residents with health insurance grew while New Hampshire’s dropped.

New Hampshire’s median household income jumped from $48,029 in the earlier period to $55,166 in the later one, overtaking Connecticut as the leader in New England and ranking nationally behind only New Jersey and Maryland.

Anita Josten, a research analyst with the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, said the numbers likely exaggerate the gains in her state.

Josten said that inflation would have to be factored in to make such a comparison. She said that in 2002 dollars, 1998-2000 number would be $50,176, rather than the $48,029 reported by the Census Bureau.

“There was still growth, but it’s not that strong,” she said.

Maine’s median household income went in the opposite direction from its neighbor’s, dropping from $39,815 to $37,619 between the same two periods, the Census data showed.

Maine’s drop in salaries came as a surprise to a state economist who said state Labor Department figures showed salaries growing.

Galen Rose, economist for the Maine State Planning Office, said he thought the difference in statistics might be that the state figures only take into account those who are working, not all working-age adults.

But he said there is a concern that Maine’s manufacturing jobs are being replaced by jobs that do not pay as well.

Maine has lost nearly 18,000 manufacturing jobs during the last three years, the nation’s highest rate of production job losses.

“On balance, the jobs that we have lost in manufacturing would pay more on average than those we’ve gained. So that would tend to push it down,” Rose said.

Vermont’s median income went from $40,908 in the earlier period to $43,212 in the later one. Vermont historically has slightly lagged the national median, but it closed the gap somewhat as the U.S. median rose less quickly, from $41,789 to $43,527.

The economic trends reflected in changing incomes also showed up in changing poverty rates. The percentage of Mainers living in poverty jumped from 9.8 to 11.8. New Hampshire’s poverty rate dropped from 7.4 to 6.0, the nation’s lowest. Vermont’s saw a smaller decline, from 10.1 to 9.4.

Vermont’s relative lack of economic volatility came as no surprise to Richard Heaps, an economist with Northern Economic Consulting in Westford.

He called Vermont’s economy “hard to get excited about,” but said the state’s 3.5 percent unemployment rate indicated “reasonably good” economic health overall. “There are a lot of states that would love to have that (unemployment) rate,” Heaps said.

Both Maine and Vermont made progress in the percentage of residents covered by health insurance, while the percentage of New Hampshire residents with health insurance dropped.

In Maine, 11.5 percent were without insurance in the 1998-2000 period; 10.7 percent had no coverage on average in the three years ending in 2003. Vermont’s rate of uninsured dropped from 10.3 percent to 9.9 percent, while New Hampshire’s jumped from 8.6 percent to 9.9 percent.

All three states were well above the national average in residents with health insurance coverage. The U.S. figure went from 14.4 percent in the last three years of the Clinton administration to 15.1 percent in the first three years under President Bush.

AP-ES-08-26-04 1735EDT

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