The Sun Belt is a region of the United States generally considered to stretch across the Southeast and Southwest. Another rough definition of the region is the area south of the 36th parallel. The region is noted for its mild winter, frequent sunny skies, and growing economic opportunities. The sun belt is the fastest growing region in the United States. Within the region, desert/semi-desert (California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas), Mediterranean (California), humid subtropical (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama), and tropical (South Florida) climates can be found.

The Sun Belt has seen substantial population growth since the 1960s from an influx of people seeking a warm and sunny climate, a surge in retiring baby boomers, and growing economic opportunities. The advent of air conditioning created more comfortable summer conditions and allowed more manufacturing and industry to locate in the sunbelt. Since much of the construction in the sun belt is new or recent, housing styles and design are often modern and open. Recreational opportunities in the sun belt are often not tied strictly to one season, and many tourist and resort cities, such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Myrtle Beach, New Orleans, Orlando, Palm Springs, Phoenix, and San Diego support a tourist industry all year.[3][4]


The Sun Belt comprises the southern tier of the United States, including the states of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Texas, roughly two-thirds of California (up to Greater Sacramento), and parts of Arkansas, North Carolina, and Nevada. Five of the states—Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, and Texas—are sometimes collectively called the Sand States because of their abundance of beaches or deserts.[5]

First employed by political analyst Kevin Phillips in his 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority,[6] the term "Sun Belt" became synonymous with the southern third of the nation in the early 1970s. In this period, economic and political prominence shifted from the Midwest and Northeast to the South and West. Factors such as the warmer climate, the migration of workers from Mexico, and a boom in the agriculture industry allowed the southern third of the United States to grow economically. The climate spurred not only agricultural growth, but also the migration of many retirees to retirement communities in the region, especially in Florida and Arizona.

Industries such as aerospace, defense, and oil boomed in the Sun Belt as companies took advantage of the low involvement of labor unions in the region (due to more recent industrialization, 1930s–1950s) and the proximity of military installations that were major consumers of their products. The oil industry helped propel states such as Texas and Louisiana forward, and tourism grew in Florida and Southern California. More recently, high tech and new economy industries have been major drivers of growth in California, Florida, Texas, and other parts of the Sun Belt. Texas and California rank among the top five states in the nation with the most Fortune 500 companies.[7]


In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that approximately 88% of the nation's population growth between 2000 and 2030 would occur in the Sun Belt.[8] California, Texas, and Florida were each expected to add more than 12 million people during that time, which would make them by far the most populous states in America. Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Texas were expected to be the fastest-growing states.

Events leading up to and including the 2008–2009 recession led some to question whether growth projections for the Sun Belt had been overstated.[9] The economic bubble that led to the recession appeared, to some observers, to have been more acute in the Sun Belt than other parts of the country. Additionally, the traditional lure of cheaper labor markets in the region compared with America's older industrial centers has been eroded by overseas outsourcing trends.

One of the greatest threats facing the belt in the coming decades is water shortages.[10] Communities in California are making plans to build multiple desalination plants to supply fresh water and avert near-term crises.[11] Texas, Georgia, and Florida also face increasingly serious shortages because of their rapidly expanding populations.[12]

Lingering effects from the Great Recession slowed down, and in some places even stopped, the migration from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt, according to data tracking people's movements over the year from July 2012 – 2013. Americans remained cautious about moving to a different state over this period.[13] However, migration to the Sun Belt from the Frost Belt resumed again, according to 2015 Census data estimates, with growing migration to the Sun Belt and out of the Frost Belt and California.[14][15]


The environment in the belt is extremely valuable, not only to local and state governments, but to the federal government. Eight of the ten states have extremely high biodiversity (ranging from 3,800 to 6,700 species, not including marine life).[16] The Sun Belt also has the highest number of distinct ecosystems: chaparral, deciduous, desert, grasslands, and tropical rainforest.

American crocodile, a vulnerable species only found in southernmost Florida.

Some endangered species live within the belt,[17][18] including:

Major cities in the Sun Belt

Largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas[19][20]
Principal City Population (2012 est.)
GMP (2011)
(US$ billion)
Los Angeles 13.0 $755.0
Dallas 6.7 $401.3
Houston 6.2 $420.4
Miami 5.8 $260.0
Atlanta 5.5 $283.8
Tampa 4.6 $253.3
Phoenix 4.3 $194.4
San Diego 3.2 $175.0
Inland Empire 2.8 $115.2
Charlotte 2.3 $117.8
Orlando 2.2 $105.0
Las Vegas 2.0 $91.8
San Jose 1.9 $182.8
International regions
San Diego–Tijuana 5.0 (2009 est.) $176
El Paso–Juárez 2.7 (2012 est.)

The five largest metropolitan statistical areas are Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and Atlanta. The Los Angeles area is by far the largest, with over 13 million inhabitants as of 2012. The ten largest metropolitan statistical areas are found in California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona.[20] Additionally, the cross-border metropolitan areas of San Diego-Tijuana and El Paso–Juárez lie partially within the Sun Belt. Seven of the ten largest cities in the United States are located in the Sun Belt: Los Angeles (2), Houston (4), Phoenix (6), San Antonio (7), San Diego (8), Dallas (9), and San Jose (10).

Major cities
State City
California Anaheim, Bakersfield, Fresno, Long Beach,
Los Angeles, Oakland, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino,
San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco
Nevada Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Reno
Arizona Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa, Chandler, Glendale, Scottsdale,
Gilbert, Tempe, Peoria, Surprise, Yuma, Prescott, Flagstaff
New Mexico Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe
Oklahoma Lawton, Oklahoma City, Tulsa
Texas Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso,
Ft. Worth, Houston, Irving, Laredo, Lubbock, Plano, San Antonio
Louisiana New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport
Alabama Birmingham-Hoover, Mobile, Huntsville
Mississippi Jackson
Georgia Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, Savannah
Tennessee Chattanooga, Clarksville, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville
Utah St. George
Arkansas Fayetteville, Little Rock
Florida Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami,
Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Tampa, West Palm Beach
North Carolina Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Durham, Fayetteville, Wilmington
South Carolina Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Myrtle Beach

See also


  1. ^ "State & County QuickFacts". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2016-12-29. 
  2. ^ "Los Angeles city, California - QuickFacts". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2016-12-29. 
  3. ^ Kaid Benfield. "Where Pittsburgh Has the Sun Belt Beat". CityLab. 
  4. ^ Woods, Michael (18 January 1981). "Desert-Like Conditions Hurt Sun Belt". The Blade (Toledo, OH) , reprinted by Google News Archive
  5. ^ Shayna M. Olesiuk and Kathy R. Kalser (27 April 2009). "The Sand States: Anatomy of a Perfect Housing-Market Storm". FDIC.gov. 
  6. ^ Phillips, Kevin (2 April 2006). "How the GOP Became God's Own Party". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  7. ^ "States with the most Fortune 500 companies". Fortune. 2015-06-15. Retrieved 2016-06-26. 
  8. ^ Sun Belt Growth Shapes Housing's Future, Professional Builder, 1 May 2005 Archived 24 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Lewan, Todd: Has economic twilight come to the Sun Belt?, MSNBC, 31 May 2009
  10. ^ Cetron, Marvin J.; O'Toole, Thomas: Encounters with the future: a forecast of life into the 21st century, Mcgraw-Hill, April 1982, pg. 34
  11. ^ Shankman, Sabrina: California Gives Desalination Plants a Fresh Look , Wall Street Journal, 10 July 2009
  12. ^ McGovern, Bernie: Florida Almanac 2007-2008, Pelican Publishing Company, March 2007, pg. 53
  13. ^ New data show 'snowbelt-to-sunbelt' migration sluggish to return, Los Angeles Times, 2014
  14. ^ Jotkin, Joel (March 28, 2016). "The Sun Belt Is Rising Again, New Census Numbers Show". Forbes. Retrieved December 28, 2016. 
  15. ^ Frey, William H. (January 4, 2016). "Sun Belt Migration Reviving, New Census Data Show". The Brookings Institution. Retrieved December 28, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Biodiversity in the United States (Map)". 
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-29. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-02-02. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  19. ^ Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Archived 2014-07-22 at the Wayback Machine., United States Census Bureau, July 2012
  20. ^ a b U.S. Metro Economies: Gross Metropolitan Product with Housing Update Archived 2012-08-13 at the Wayback Machine., The United States Conference of Mayors, July 2012

Further reading

Coordinates: 32°N 100°W / 32°N 100°W / 32; -100