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Sunbelt cities revisited.

Sunbelt Cities Revisited

Ten years ago, in the March-April 1980 issue of this Review, eleven articles were published as a special issue on Sunbelt cities. At that time, Texans were witnessing the beginning of a migration boom that was expected to last for the foreseeable future. Migration was swelling the population of the state so quickly that the construction industry could hardly meet the demand for new homes. Housing and real estate prices rose at unsustainable rates.

In those days, we attributed this influx to "amenities" such as mild weather and to business factors such as lower taxes, less unionization and the availability of energy. We called the northern industrialized states the "Rustbelt" and predicted their continued decline. When the boom ended in the mid-1980s, it was difficult to explain the reversal in terms of these long-range trends. Certainly the northern winters hadn't gotten any warmer.

The lead article of the March-April 1980 issue contributed to the popular perception of the North as withering away, all its young, educated people moving south to escape bad weather and high taxes. In it, Martin T. Katzman and John W. Sommer described a sample of large Sunbelt and Frostbelt cities in terms of social and demographic statistics. Some of their results have been reproduced in "Frostbelt and Sunbelt Cities, 1970-77," which appears on page 4.

With all of the difficulties the Sunbelt has encountered since the bust, one might expect that the same statistics compiled today would tell a different story. To determine whether a reversal in the indicator statistics had taken place, I compiled the statistics shown in the table below from the latest edition of the City and County Data Book.

Comparison of the tables reveals that the interpretations of the data originally made by Katzman and Sommer are still relevant:

* Frostbell cities have a higher portion of minorities than Sunbelt cities.

* Educational attainment is lower in Frostbelt cities than it is in Sunbelt cities.

* Per capita income is lower in Frostbelt cities than it is in Sunbelt cities.

* Frostbelt cities have a higher per capita city tax burden than Sunbelt cities.

In fact, in some cases, the differences between Sunbelt and Frostbelt are even more compelling today than they were in 1980. The social and demographic statistics for the Sunbelt describe a region with even more positive attributes today than in 1980. The primary change has been a restructuring of the Sunbelt economy away from resource-based industries and toward services and manufacturing. This trend has been most evident in Texas, where the oil and gas extraction and related industries have shrunk to a fraction of their earlier size.

With the most difficult period of the transition probably behind us, a new Texas economy is taking shape. Some of the growth in this new economy will come from a renewed stream of migration into Texas, fueled in part by the same amenities and positive business factors that fueled the migration of the early eighties. The Sunbelt has a greater competitive advantage today than it had ten years ago. As long as the U.S. economy continues on its current path of expansion, the Texas economic forecast calls for continued growth at rates that could once again surpass those of the country as a whole.
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Title Annotation:reconsideration of studies done on Sunbelt and Frostbelt areas
Author:Olson, Jerry
Publication:Texas Business Review
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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