The Belt Regions of the United States

The United States is home to a number of regions that are referred to as “belts.” These belt regions are defined by shared characteristics, such as religion, climate, or agriculture. Importantly, the belt regions of the United States are informally defined regions, rather than specifically delineated geographical areas.

Historically, the term “belt” applied to regions along a similar latitude. These areas shared a common climate, allowing a large area to grow similar crops. However, as the United States grew, the term was more broadly applied to regions of the country with similar types of industry, as well as culturally cohesive regions.

Importantly, belt regions are not mutually exclusive, meaning there is a large degree of overlap between the belts. For example, many southeastern states are part of the Bible Belt, the Sun Belt, the Cotton Belt, and the Black Belt.

Because agricultural belt regions are typically based on traditional production in different areas, they do not necessarily contain all of the currently important growing regions for these crops. For example, California is a leading producer of both rice and cotton, but is not considered a part of either the Rice Belt or the Cotton Belt.

Religious Belts

The Bible Belt

The Bible Belt refers to a region of the Southeastern United States that exhibits higher church attendance than the national average.  Evangelical Christianity is strongly associated with the Bible Belt, and the majority of residents claim that religion is important to them.

The states generally considered to make up the Bible Belt are Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Parts of Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, and West Virginia are also included.

The United States is not the only country with a Bible Belt. Similar areas with high concentrations of religious people have been identified outside of the U.S. These Bible Belts exist in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe.

While the Bible Belt in the United States is strongly associated with Evangelical Christianity, international Bible Belts are associated with other Christian denominations. These denominations include Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and several types of Protestantism.

The Stroke Belt

The Stroke Belt largely overlaps the Bible Belt, although there is some debate about whether Texas should be included. This area has higher rates of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases than the rest of the United States.

Smaller Belt Areas Delineated by Religion

The Jell-O Belt

Also called the Mormon Corridor, the Jell-O Belt is an area of the southwestern United States with high concentrations of members of the Church of Latter-day Saints. It got its nickname from the popularity of Jell-O among Utah residents, who purchase more Lime Jell-O than any other demographic in the U.S.

The Jell-O belt is centered in Utah; it stretches into parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and California.

The Unchurched Belt

The Unchurched Belt contains the states of Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, as well as part of Nevada. These states contain the highest percentage of people who are not affiliated with any church.

Climate Belts

The Sun Belt

Named for its sunshine, the Sun Belt is a diverse area that spans the entire width of the United States, south of the 36th parallel. This large region contains roughly the southern third of the U.S., and has been a hub  of population growth since the 1960s.

The states that lie within the Sun Belt include all of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, as well as parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

The desire to live in warmer climates, combined with a building boom and greater availability of air conditioning, has lead to rapid growth in the Sun Belt. The area is home to some of the fastest growing cities in the United States according to the United States Census Bureau, including Phoenix, Arizona, the country’s fastest growing city. Other fast-growing cities in the region include San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Austin in Texas, as well as Jacksonville, Florida, and San Diego, California.

Because of the growth the Sun Belt has seen over the past century, it has become a center of industry. It is particularly well know for the high tech industry, notability in Silicon Valley, California. More recently, Texas has begun to compete with California in the technology sector. Aerospace is also a major industry within the Sun Belt, with major NASA facilities located in Houston, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Although the Sun Belt is named for its sunshine, it contains a diversity of climates. These range from Mediterranean in California, desert in the southwest, humid subtropical in the southeast, and tropical in Florida.

The Frost Belt, The Salt Belt, and The Snow Belt

The Sun Belt isn’t the only belt region that is named for the local climate. To the north lies a region called both the Frost Belt and the Salt Belt, so named for the cold temperatures (and the salt used to keep ice at bay).

The Frost Belt and Salt Belt span roughly the same area, from the upper Midwest to the Northeast. The states that make up these belts are North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, along with the District of Columbia.

The Snow Belt is a smaller area within the Frost Belt and Salt Belt that receives relatively more snow than the surrounding areas due to the lake effect. These areas are located on the southern and eastern coasts of the Great Lakes, in the states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Banana Belts

A Banana Belt is an area with a milder climate than other areas directly surrounding it. These small pockets of relative warmth are found throughout the United States. One example is Sausalito, California, a part of the Northern San Francisco Bay Area that is much sunnier than the foggy areas nearby.

Banana Belts are found outside the United States. Indeed, Western and Northern Europe can be considered Banana Belts, as the North Atlantic Current makes them warmer than other regions at similar latitudes.

Industrial and Agricultural Belts

The Rust Belt

Previously called the Steel Belt, the Rust belt is an area that includes portions of the Midwest as well as the Great Lakes region of the Northeast. It was traditionally the home of manufacturing in the United States, although it has been experiencing decline since the 1980s.

The Rust Belt is centered in the Great Lakes States of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Unlike other belts, it generally refers to cities within these states that were once centers of steel production.

In the 1960s, the Rust Belt began to decline as the manufacturing sector encountered offshoring and increased competition from foreign factories. This decline coincided with the growth of the Sun Belt region to the south.

Today, the term Rust Belt is considered by some to be offensive, as it associates the region with economic deterioration.

The Cotton Belt

The Cotton Belt is an area of the southeastern United States where the primary agricultural product was historically cotton. While cotton is still planted in the cotton belt today, it is no longer the dominant crop in the area, which is now the home to more diverse agricultural production.

The Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina make up the heart of the Cotton Belt, with parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia also represented.

Today, cotton production has moved to states that were not historically associated with the Cotton Belt, such as California and Colorado.

The Black Belt

Due to the localization of the slave trade within the Cotton Belt, the region largely overlaps with the Black Belt. The Black Belt is a band within the Cotton Belt with a high proportion of African-Americans. In the 20th century, the area saw an exodus called the Great Migration, in which African-Americans left the south in large numbers in search of better opportunities.

The Wheat Belt

Wheat is the most important cereal crop in the United States, and the Wheat Belt is the region in the western plains where wheat production is localized. It is considered the breadbasket of the U.S.

The southern states in the Wheat Belt are Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. In these warmer states, winter wheat can be grown. Further north, in Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, wheat is planted in spring and harvested in fall.

The Corn Belt

To the east of the Wheat Belt, corn supplants wheat as the agricultural staple. Corn does well in the region because of the area’s fertile soils.

While corn is grown throughout the Midwest, the states most strongly associated with the Corn Belt are Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio. South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Kentucky are sometimes included.

The Rice Belt

South of the Corn Belt, rice is produced in the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. While California is also a major producer of rice, it is not considered part of the Rice Belt.

Single State Belts

While most belts span multiple states, some belts are located wholly within a single state. While these belts are less important within the broader context of the United States, they maintain regional significance.

  • The Pine Belt: Located within Mississippi, the Pine Belt is known for its proliferation of longleaf pine trees.
  • The Borscht Belt: Contained within New York’s Catskill Mountains, the Borscht Belt was formerly the preferred summer vacation resort area for Jewish New Yorkers. While it is now defunct, it was a culturally important area well into the mid 20th century.