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The Rise of the Sunbelt Previous Next
Digital History ID 3428

 

In 1950, California was the size of Pennsylvania. Florida ranked 21st in size. Now it is ranked 4th.

One of the central developments of the second half of the 20th century was the shift in political and economic power from the older industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. Since 1964, every elected U.S. president has been born or has claimed residence in the Sunbelt.

At the end of World War II, the South was the nation's poorest region, with per capita income barely one-half of the national average. Air conditioning, lower taxes and wages, desegregation, and weaker unions contributed to the postwar growth of the South. So, too, did government spending. During World War II, the federal government invested almost $9 billion in the South, mainly in defense plants, shipyards, oil refineries, and chemical plants. As recently as 1980, nearly half of the nation's soldiers were stationed in the South, and the Defense Department spent nearly 40 percent of its budget in the region.

The West also prospered as a result of an infusion of federal dollars. Government spending in the West began to increase steeply during the 1930s, as the Roosevelt administration financed major dam, power, and irrigation projects. World War II accelerated the West's growth. During the war years, the federal government spent $70 billion in the western states, over half in California. Southern California's defense and aerospace industries created more than 250,000 new jobs during the war.

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