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America’s Belt Regions Posted by on Nov 15, 2019 in Culture

Image courtesy of Pixabay, CCO

The United States has belts. I’m not talking about the kind which holds up your pants. I’m referring to select regions of the country which are distinctive in some way. Those distinctions, over time, have led to these areas being designated as a belt region. Some of these areas can be quite important because their populations tend to share political and economic similarities or demographics. As we prepare for a national election, how the residents of these belt regions will vote may determine the future of the country.

The first areas of the country to be called belt regions were agricultural regions. Wheat Belt, Cotton Belt, and Dairy Belt regions got their names because of the farming communities which are prevalent in these geographic areas. They were called belts because they follow lines of latitude, where the climate is similar and growing conditions are ideal for particular crops. These regions stretched across a fairly narrow strip on the map – like belts.

Over time, the distinctive nature of a region became more important than the crops grown, prompting many non-agricultural belts to be identified. Some of the country’s best known, and most important, belt regions have nothing whatsoever to do with farming. And the list grew. As I researched this subject, I discovered some lesser-known belt regions which I’d never heard of before. I can’t name them all in this space, but many are significant because of their geographic size and cultural significance. Let’s start with the three most widely known, and politically important, belt regions.

The Rust Belt

Once called the Manufacturing Belt or the Steel Belt, this area was famous for its steel mills, coal plants, and industrial manufacturing. Employment in these areas declined in the last 25 years of the 20th century, due to automation and companies relocating for cheaper labor costs. Populations decreased, cities decayed, and millions have suffered as a result. It is no secret that many of these states, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin hold the key to the next election.

The Bible Belt

Ranging from the central part of the country to the Deep South, this region is the most deeply religious and conservative in the United States. The majority of the residents of the Bible Belt are Evangelical Protestants who attend church services regularly. They also vote along ideological lines. These states include Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The Sun Belt

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that residents of the Sun Belt live in the sunniest climate in the 48 contiguous, or joined, United States. The temperatures are warmer, the climate ranges from desert conditions to humid and sub-tropical. States along this region include New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Georgia. Many residents are older and retired, or have relocated from other parts of the Americas.

Three other regions are significant for their climate as well as their history. Significantly, many residents of these areas settled and have remained for generations.

The Snow Belt

You guessed it; the Snow Belt is where the largest amount of snowfall is recorded every year. Located mostly along the Southern and Eastern shorelines of the Great Lakes, these states include New York, Ohio, Minnesota, and Michigan.

The Corn Belt

This is the Midwest region of the United States where farming is strongest and whose principal crop is corn. Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota make up the largest part of this belt.

The Cotton Belt

Once identified by huge plantations, manned by slave labor, and some of the richest and most fertile soil in the country, cotton was the cash crop that drove the economy for many. With the abolition of slavery and the infestation of the boll weevil pest which decimated many of the cotton fields, the region is now farming many crops, including wheat, soybeans, and peanuts. States include Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and  Tennessee.

Then there are some odd belt regions, with curious distinctions which make them stand out.

The Stroke Belt

Yes, this region is notable because of its high incidence of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases and health issues. The residents tend to be obese, smoke, and have high blood pressure. These states are in the South and Southeast. Not coincidentally, many of them were tobacco-growing regions. North and South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The Unchurched Belt

If the Bible Belt is the most devoutly religious and politically conservative section of the country, then the Unchurched Belt is the most secular and liberal section. However, it is split between the Northeast corridor from New York to New England, and along the Northwest states of California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

The Borscht Belt

I could not leave this subject without mentioning the Borscht Belt. Sometimes called the Jewish Alps, this is a swath of New York State which largely occupies the Catskill Mountains. For generations, beginning in the 1920s, this was a popular vacation and entertainment center for the Jewish community of New York City and immigrants from Eastern Europe. Hundreds of comedians and singers began their careers here. Many of the resorts have closed in the last 30 years, but the community, and its generations of admirers, have remained.

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About the Author: Gary Locke

Gary is a semi-professional hyphenate.