03/05/2024

Following the sun

AMERICA’S crisis owes something to baby-boomers’ taste for sun. From the 1970s the share of Americans living in the southern half of the country climbed steadily, from under 40% to more than half by the 2000s. Climate helped motivate the shift (as climate control helped populate the Deep South, almost uninhabitably humid before air-conditioning). Economic opportunity also exerted a strong pull. This flow provided the underlying energy for America’s housing boom and bust.

Recently released figures on metropolitan-area GDP, adjusted for inflation, reveal the sunbelt’s multitudes. San Jose, California—home of Silicon Valley—enjoyed GDP growth of an impressive 19% from 2007 to 2011, while the economy of Austin, the capital of Texas, expanded by 14%. The laggards, though, are similarly sun-drenched. The GDP of Las Vegas shrank 12% from 2007 to 2011. It was joined down at the bottom by Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix and Atlanta. Employment figures tell a very similar story. Since the beginning of the recession (and to the end of March 2013) Texas has accounted for four of the metropolitan areas with the biggest rise in employment, alongside Nashville, Tennessee and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. But other sunny cities are also among those which have lost most ground on jobs. Los Angeles remains some 300,000 jobs short of its pre-recession peak, about 5.3% of total employment.

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