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This article is about the region of the United States. For the American athletic conference, see Sun Belt Conference. For the region in Europe, see Golden Banana.
The Sun Belt
Regional statistics
Alabama Alabama
Arizona Arizona
California California
Florida Florida
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia
Louisiana Louisiana
Mississippi Mississippi
Nevada Nevada
New Mexico New Mexico
North Carolina North Carolina
South Carolina South Carolina
Texas Texas
Demonym Sun Belter
 - Total

 - Density

109,073,023 (2008 est.)[1]
Largest city Los Angeles (pop. 3,792,621)
Largest Metropolitan Area Greater Los Angeles (pop. 18,880,000 as of 2009 estimate)

The Sun Belt is a region of the United States generally considered to stretch across the South and Southwest (the geographic southern United States). Another rough boundary of the region is the area south of the 36th parallel, north latitude. The main defining feature of the Sun Belt is its warm-temperate climate with extended summers and brief, relatively mild winters; Florida, the Gulf Coast, and southern Texas, however, have a true subtropical climate.

The Belt has seen substantial population growth since the 1960s due to an influx of immigrants, both documented and undocumented; a surge in retiring baby boomers; and the attractiveness of a mild winter climate. This population boom has been less substantial in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama compared with their western and eastern neighbor states. Also, over the past several decades, air conditioning has made it easier for people to deal with the heat in portions of the region during the summertime. Water shortages, droughts, and drug trafficking are becoming a common problem in the region.[2][3]


The Belt comprises the southern tier of the United States including the states of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, roughly half of California (up to Greater Sacramento), and at least parts of Arkansas, North Carolina, and southern Nevada. A more expansive definition includes the states of Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia, Utah, and all of California and Nevada.[4][5]

Author and political analyst Kevin Phillips claims to have coined the term "to describe the oil, military, aerospace and retirement country stretching from Florida to California" 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. There was a shift in this period from the previously economically and politically important northeast to the south and west. Events such as the huge migration of immigrant workers from Mexico, warmer climate, and a boom in the agriculture industry allowed for the southern third of the United States to grow economically. The climate spurred not only agricultural growth, but also saw many retirees move into 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 south (due to more recent industrialization; 1930s to 1950s) and enjoyed the proximity to many U.S. military installations who were the major consumers of their products. The oil industry helped propel southern states such as Texas and Louisiana forward, and tourism grew in Florida and southern California as well. In more recent decades high tech and new economy industries have been major drivers of growth in California, Florida and some other parts of the Sun Belt. Texas and California rank among the top five states in the nation with the most number of Fortune 500 companies, with New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania rounding out the top five.

Since 1970 Sun Belt states have gained 25 electoral votes. Since Lyndon B. Johnson's election in 1964, every elected United States President, with the exception of Barack Obama from Illinois, has been from the Sun Belt. (Gerald Ford, who was from Michigan, became president following Richard Nixon's resignation, but was not elected as president, and lost to Georgia's Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.)


As of 2005 the U.S. Census Bureau projected that approximately 88% of the U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2030 will occur in the Sun Belt.[7] California, Texas, and Florida are each expected to add more than 12 million people during that time, which will make them, by far, the most populous states in America. Arizona, North Carolina, and metropolitan Atlanta are also expected to make major population gains. Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Texas are expected to be the fastest-growing states.

Events leading up to and including the 2008–2009 recession have led many to question whether growth projections for the Sun Belt have been overstated.[8] The economic bubble that led to the recession appears, to many observers, to have been more acute in the Sun Belt than many other parts of the country. Additionally, the traditional lure of cheaper labor markets in the belt compared to many of the older industrial centers has been eroded by the overseas outsourcing trend of the recent decade.

One of the greatest threats facing the Belt in the coming decades is water shortages.[9] Communities in California are making plans to build potentially multiple desalination plants to supply fresh water and avert near-term crises.[10] Texas, Georgia and Florida also face increasingly serious shortages because of their rapidly expanding populations.[11]


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).[12] The Sun Belt also has the highest number of distinct ecosystems: chaparral, deciduous, desert, grasslands, and tropical rainforest. From the marshes on Florida's mainland to its extensive coral reefs, this state leads the entire United States in terms of its diversity in animal and plant species.

Some of the most endangered species live within the Belt[13][14] and include:

Major cities within the Sun Belt

Largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas[15][16]
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
San Francisco 4.5 $335.3
San Bernardino 4.4 $111.3
Phoenix 4.3 $194.4
San Diego 3.2 $175.0
Tampa 2.8 $115.2
Charlotte 2.3 $117.8
Orlando 2.2 $105.0
San Jose 1.9 $182.8
International regions
San Diego–Tijuana 5.0 (2009 est.) $176
El Paso–Juárez 2.5 (2005 est.)

The five largest metropolitan statistical areas are the Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Miami and Atlanta metropolitan statistical areas. 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 the states of California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona.[16] Additionally, the cross-border metrolitan areas of San Diego - Tijuana and El Paso - Juárez lie partially within this belt. Seven of the ten largest cities (proper) in the United States are located in the Sun Belt: Los Angeles (2nd), Houston (4th), Phoenix (5th), San Antonio (7th), San Diego (8th), Dallas (9th), and San Jose (10th).

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

See also

Sand States

Four of the Sun Belt states, Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada, are sometimes collectively called the Sand States after their abundance of either beaches or deserts.[17]


Further reading

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

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