Sun Belt Cities: Booming Populations, Low GDP Growth

Population trends are often used as a shorthand for a city's economic prowess, but Pete Saunders argues they may be a lagging indicator.

1 minute read

March 14, 2018, 12:00 PM PDT

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark

Houston, Texas

travelview / Shutterstock

Rust Belt cities like Detroit and Cleveland have lost much of their economic prowess since their peak in the mid-20th century, and the population loss shows that, but in recent years GDP growth per capita tells a different story. While they don't top the list of fast-growing economies, Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago rank 8th, 12th, and 20th respectively. Lower on the list in the 30s and 40s you'll find Sun Belt cities like Nashville, Houston, and Orlando.

The Sun Belt has long been booming population-wise, "…but there's growing evidence that population change, up or down, is a lagging indicator -- the moves people make don't always coincide with the current economic path of their chosen destination," writes Pete Saunders in Forbes.

Still the news isn't all good for Rust Belt cities. Cities like Chicago are losing some of their most prosperous citizens, even as the population stays relatively flat. "Even when they're gaining residents in other cohorts, the loss of households with workers nearing their peak in earnings (40-49 year-olds) and their children (10-19 year-olds) virtually bakes population loss into the mix," Saunders reports.

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