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Sun Belt

SUN BELT

SUN BELT comprises the states of the South and the Southwest. The term was coined to describe both the warm climate of these regions and the rapid economic and population growth that have been characteristic since the 1960s. The Sun Belt stretches approximately from Virginia south to Florida and west to California but also includes western mountain states, such as Colorado and Utah, that have experienced similar economic growth.

Historically, most of the nation's population and economic power was based in the Northeast and the upper Midwest. The Southeast had a smaller population, a less robust economy, and hot, humid summers that many northerners considered uncomfortable. Much of the Southwest was settled later and remained sparsely populated well into the twentieth century because of its remote location and an inhospitable desert climate that regularly reached triple-digit temperatures in summer. With the advent of air conditioning, however, year-round comfort became possible in both regions.

A shift from northeastern dominance was evident by the early 1970s. The term "New South" came into use to describe economic progress and social changes in the Southeast. California and oil-rich Texas had established themselves as thriving economies, and newer regions of prosperity had begun to emerge throughout the West. This pattern intensified in following decades as many states in the North lost industries, population, and representation in Congress. The Sun Belt attracted domestic and international businesses for many reasons, including lower energy costs and nonunion wages, state policies favorable to business, and, in the West, proximity to the increasingly important Pacific Rim nations. A national emphasis on developing domestic fuel sources in the early 1970s stimulated growth in Texas, Colorado, and other states. The lifestyles and natural beauty of Sun Belt states also attraced many newcomers. As populations grew, southern and western states gained increasing political and economic power. All seven winners of U.S. presidential elections between 1964 and 2000 were from the Sun Belt, reflecting the increased representation in Congress of key states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida, which helped Republicans win majority representation in Congress during the 1990s. Southern culture and values became influential, such as the nationwide popularity of country and western music. Hispanic cultures of the Southwest and Florida gained prominence.

The Sun Belt also faced difficult issues, including social problems that many migrants had hoped to escape. Despite areas of prosperity, the Southeast continued to have many sections of poverty. Texas and other energy-oriented states experienced a steep, if temporary, economic decline in the mid-1980s because of a fall in oil prices. California suffered serious economic recession and social stresses in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which caused a significant migration of businesses and residents to nearby states. The impacts of growth and development became matters of urgent concern as many Sun Belt communities experienced suburban sprawl, congestion, and pollution, along with an erosion of their traditional regional characteristics and identities. These trends provoked many controversies, which continued into the 1990s. Some people opposed the changes, but others saw them as positive signs of progress and prosperity. Nationally, experts predicted that the economic growth and increasing influence of the Sun Belt marked a permanent change in the demographic, economic, and political structure of the nation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bogue, Donald J. The Population of the United States: Historical Trends and Future Projections. New York: Free Press, 1985.

De Vita, Carol J. America in the 21st Century: A Demographic Overview. Washington, D.C.: Population Reference Bureau, 1989.

Wilson, Charles Reagan, and William Ferris, eds. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

JohnTownes/c. w.

See alsoAir Conditioning ; Climate ; Demography and Demographic Trends ; Energy Industry ; Migration, Internal ; Rust Belt .

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Sun Belt

Sun Belt or Sunbelt, southern tier of the United States, focused on Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California, and extending as far north as Virginia. The term gained wide use in the 1970s, when the economic and political impact of the nation's overall shift in population to the south and west became conspicuous. Areas near the Mexican border have received millions of immigrants since the 1960s. Economic growth in many Sun Belt cities since World War II has stimulated interregional migration from the NE United States and the Rust Belt; by 1990, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio were among the ten largest cities in the United States. During the 1990s the fastest growing cities in the United States were in the Sun Belt. The warm climate has attracted large retirement communities, especially in Florida and Arizona. In addition, the birth rate in the Sun Belt is about 10% greater than that in the rest of the country. Attracted by the relative lack of labor unions and the prospect of cheaper labor than was generally available in the north, manufacturers began to locate in the Southeast in significant numbers after World War II; aerospace firms and defense contractors were drawn to the vicinity of military bases in S California and throughout the Southwest. Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma benefited from the oil booms of the 1970s. In addition, the enormous tourist industries of the Sun Belt (especially Florida and S California) have brought the region considerable wealth. Although overall the expansion of the Sun Belt's economy in recent decades has been dramatic, the distribution of the region's prosperity has been uneven; of the 25 metropolitan areas with the lowest per capita income in 1990, 23 were in the Sun Belt. The rapid fall of oil prices in the 1980s hurt the economies of the energy-producing areas of the Sun Belt; Houston was especially hard hit. By the 1980s, the Los Angeles area, beset by problems ranging from air pollution to a growing population of unskilled immigrants, came increasingly to resemble some of the troubled metropolitan areas of the North. Politically, the rise of the Sun Belt has generally been viewed as advantageous to the Republican party, especially in presidential elections. Since 1970, the Sun Belt has gained more than 25 electoral votes, mostly at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest.

See B. L. Weinstein and R. E. Firestine, Regional Growth and Decline in the United States: The Rise of the Sunbelt and the Decline of the Northeast (1978); C. Abbott, The New Urban America (1987); R. M. Miller and G. E. Pozzetta, ed., Shades of the Sunbelt: Essays on Ethnicity, Race, and the Urban South (1988); R. A. Mohl, ed., Searching for the Sunbelt (1990).

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Sun Belt

SUN BELT


The "Sun Belt" region of the United States comprises fifteen southern states, extending from Virginia to Florida in the Southeast, and westward through Nevada, including southern California. Because of the expansion of inexpensive residential retirement communities, the Sun Belt region has seen a 93 percent overall growth of population between 1970 and 1990, well above the national average. To many people in the United States, the Sun Belt offers inexpensive living, year-round recreational activities, mild climates, and an inexpensive non-union labor pool for the creation of new business enterprises. A large migration of people to the Sun Belt, as well as a high birth rate and a decline of migration from the region have all contributed to the rapid growth of the Sun Belt's population and manufacturing activities. Overall improvements in transportation, communications, living conditions, and services have all made the Sun Belt an attractive area for retirees, workers, and business.

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