Has Migration to the ‘Sun Belt’ ended?


This article in the Las Vegas Sun seems to think that city’s era of unbridled growth has definitely ended.

The article cites U.S. Census Bureau data showing:

-its slowest rate of population growth since 1967,

-for the first time in a long time, the state experience out-migration (more people left the state than came there).

“The new numbers contrast strikingly with the rest of this decade when an average of 45,000 people moved here every year from other states,” according to the story. “Analysts both here and nationally cited the weak economy of Nevada and other Sun Belt states, including Florida and Arizona, as the primary cause of the sudden halt in America’s 60-year move to the South and West.”

The story doesn’t really address if this growth will pick up again after the current recession ends. I’m not sure that the Sun Belt’s growth is over for good. What do you think?



Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Real Estate, regionalism

11 responses to “Has Migration to the ‘Sun Belt’ ended?

  1. The boom years in Vegas may well be over, but I’d expect Sun Belt and suburban migration to pick back up after the recession ends. However, some like Kotkin suggest we are heading for an era of less geographic mobility, so perhaps the trend will slow.

  2. In addition to reducing migration between cities, the recession has slowed outmigration within metro areas – in other words, less sprawl. There are some very smart people who think that future suburban development will be more compact.

  3. The key for the sun belt is to move towards killer aps that go beyond just sunny nice weather and a FHA, Fannie, Freddie bubble economy which relies on housing alone as the driver.

    Texas has already gone pretty far in this way as have many states in the old south which have pretty diverse economies.

    The final straw for us will be when nice sunny states adapt walkable, transit oriented mixed use development– imagine NY with Vegas or LA weather, almost everyone would like that.

  4. Rob

    I’m highly skeptical of the “nice weather drives people to the sun belt” argument. I think there may be some confusion between correlation and causation going on. When I lived in Texas I was surprised how many people dreaded the summer because it’s “just so hot”. It almost seemed like the same number of people who hate winter in the north because it’s too cold. When I was in high school, my school called two snow days in four years. There are cities in the south that routinely shut down (schools, business, stores, etc.) any time snow begins to fall. To me, that just doesn’t seem economically efficient.

  5. A lot of people obviously like it and many don’t, my point is that places have to trancend the pure tourist, retirement, sun based economies, which many states in the south are doing pretty well.

    At this point they can only go so far in terms of tax cuts, right to work laws, etc, because they are tied up by the feds.

    The magic word we are starting to hear more is secession. The 10th amendment resolutions are a warning shot.

    Face the fact that Michigan would be very close to Zimbabwe if it wasn’t getting cash transfers of one form or another.

  6. The Sun Belt states (e.g. Florida and Arizona) hurting the most right now will take a long time to recover, thus missing out on whatever bump in geographic mobility occurs nationally. Las Vegas isn’t going to remake itself over night. The result well could be a lost generation.

    I’ll be interested to see how Charlotte (NC) emerges from its downturn. Some interesting urban upstarts in the region such as Charleston (SC), Greenville, and Chattanooga. I expect the Sun Belt revival to happen in these second and third tier cities.

  7. Steven

    “Face the fact that Michigan would be very close to Zimbabwe if it wasn’t getting cash transfers of one form or another.”

    More Michigan bashing. I don’t understand why people feel they have to bash Michigan so much. Michigan’s GDP for 2008 was over $300 billion, or close to 100 Zimbabwes and higher than almost every state in the South.

    The fact is, the Sunbelt wouldn’t be where it is today without the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars in federal subsidies it has received over the last 50 years.

  8. One reason I bring it up is that Obama called Granholm the best Governor in 2008. Michigan has had a shocking structural unemployment rate for many years getting worse each year and probably the country’s worst rate of new business formation and survival.

    Brain Drain is mostly a myth in many states but it’s very much a reality in Michigan.

    My personal guess is that at this point, pension, social security, some form of welfare and money sent by relatives in other states plays a very big role in Michigan’s economy. Now Obama has picked it as a favorite target for stimulus money.


    I strongly agree that tranfers to the sun belt have been huge and may be the deciding factor in state’s like Florida and Arizona. However, much of the rest of the Sun belt is building a fairly stable economy.

    Hopefully, we will see a rational path to Secession so we can test the experiment. It’s likely where the country is headed anyway and it’s better that at least a few states separate themselves from the sinking ship.

  9. I’d argue that Rust Belt states have subsidized most of the growth in the Sun Belt. The greenfields of Charlotte are beginning to brown. Dallas just sunk millions into a cultural arts district boondoggle (and don’t forget the stadium albatross for the Cowboys). Florida is already hamstrung by crushing legacy costs. That Sun Belt states offer better policy structures (e.g. less taxes or right to work) is mostly a myth. Mobile is booming while Birmingham flirts with bankruptcy. Nashville is thriving while Chattanooga struggles to scrape off the rust from its industrial heyday. There is also Charlotte at one end of the economic spectrum and Wilmington at the other.

    The celebrated libertarian policies haven’t helped any of the Rust Belt cities located in the Sun Belt. It is about time people recognized this red herring. Sun Belt states don’t offer a better way of doing business. They’ve just been lucky. Now that’s beginning to change and we’ll see which boomtowns can keep it going.

  10. Special K

    Here’s an article from the Las Vegas Sun about how the city needs to diversify its economy and learn lessons from Detroit and Pittsburgh before it can recover:


  11. Peter

    If climate change continues on the path we are on- The SW in 20 years might become prohibitively expensive for people to live and for business.

    Climate models see drought increasing- as well as temperatures for Las Vegas, Phoenix, El Paso, Houston Dallas- and also inland California.

    The cost of Air conditioning will will skyrocket- as well as water resources.

    It might be said that the great sunbelt migration of the 20th century is over- the great recession and housing bust was the catalyst.

    If we become as warm a what the NOAA says- – Parts of the SW will be nearly uninhabitable by 2030. The future this century will be on the ‘fringes of the nation’ The Pacific NW- norther coastal CA- the upper Great lakes- and New England & Maritime Canada- all these regions will be warmer as well, with periods of drought and prolonged heat- but the south and south west will likely become too hot for most people to live.

    So yes the economies of the southwest are a big problem- but the larger long term issue is geographic and climatic.

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