Academic journal article Urban Studies Research

Urban Areas in the Transformation of the South: A Review of Modern History

Academic journal article Urban Studies Research

Urban Areas in the Transformation of the South: A Review of Modern History

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Beginning in the 1930s, the southern states of the US were transformed, according to the title of the book by Schulman [1], From Cotton Belt to Sun Belt. Wright's [2]title is Old South, New South, and he states [2, page 241] that

   By the 1980s (and indeed much earlier in
   many places), a new Southern economy prevailed,
   located in the same geographic space as
   the old one, but encompassing a very different
   package of labor, capital, natural resources, and
   entrepreneurship: not an advanced version of the
   old economy, but a new economy.

The transformation of the South was a goal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Tennessee Valley Authority created in 1933 did not pursue aggressive economic transformation for its first five years but, as recounted by Schulman [1], did so beginning from 1938. The 1938 federal Report on Economic Conditions of the South stated that "The low income belt of the South is a belt of sickness, misery, and unnecessary death." In that same year, FDR declared that the South was the nation's number one economic problem. At that time the economy of the South was based on backward agriculture, low-wage industries located in smaller towns and rural areas, and unrelenting racial segregation and discrimination and denial of voting and other legal rights. This southern system was created in the decades after the Civil War in the interest of a ruling coalition--a result that Olson [3] argued is an application of his "logic of collective action." All of this also was documented in Myrdal's monumental work [4] An American Dilemma, a book that was featured prominently in Myrdal's Nobel Prize citation. The year 1938 is also the date of passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which instituted a minimum wage of 30 cents per hour for the entire nation. This minimum wage had been set in 1933 under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), but the demise of this program had resulted in some wage reductions in southern industries. FLSA made the minimum wage permanent, and the minimum was raised to 40 cents per hour in 1940. Wright [2] argues that the New Deal policies in general (including the Tennessee Valley Authority) and the minimum wage in particular were important causes of the beginning of the transformation of the South. But it is clear that World War II was the watershed event. The war brought military bases and military production facilities to the South and drew workers from the farms and low-wage industries into this new economy. The end of the war left industrial workers and production facilities that could be used for defense contracts during the Cold War and for nondefense industry as well.

The dramatic changes in the economy of the South after World War II have been attributed to list of factors, as summarized by Roland [5, pages 11-20], Wright [2, page 239], and Glaeser and Tobio [6].

(1) Federal spending, especially on defense and the space program, stimulated the southern economy-- and continues to do so. Schulman [1] is one who emphasizes the role of the federal government and the influence of the southern congressional delegation. Schulman [1] points to the federal subsidization of transportation facilities--interstate highways and airports--which was particularly important for the South with its relatively poor transportation facilities.

(2) The mechanization of cotton harvesting began in the late 1940s and was essentially complete by 1960. Labor was freed to work in nonagricultural jobs. Promotion of industry became a major purpose of state governments.

(3) The growth of the region resulted from the movement of both capital and labor in response to economic incentives. This line of argument is the one that regional economists have explored at length, beginning with the work of Borts and Stein [7]. It turned out that the story of economic convergence at the state level for the 1929-53 period is complex and required more than a single sector model. …

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