In 1984 the U.S. census issued a report on Sun Belt-Frost Belt migration which illustrates the point that no economic trend under capitalism is ever fully followed through to the very end. It shows that there has been a reversal in the consistent trend of heavy migration from the North and Middle Atlantic states to the South that had been especially prominent in the 1970s, but began two or three decades earlier. (See Table 6 in Appendix B.)
These new findings were summarized in the New York Times of April 7, 1985, as follows: "(T)he migratory streams from the Northeast to the South and West are markedly shallower and narrower than they were five years ago, and the flow in the other direction is a bit wider and deeper."
The oil boom of the 1970s significantly accelerated the rate of migration from the so-called Frost Belt to the Sun Belt. The artificial oil shortage created a period of high employment in the South as well as the West. Texas, Oklahoma, California and Florida in particular gained considerably from that trend. But the upswing soon turned into a vast speculative phase in the development of the capitalist economic cycle. Then came the failure of the Penn Square bank of Oklahoma in 1982 and the Continental-Illinois bank in 1984, and the economic upswing turned into a virtual collapse. Capitalist overproduction in oil produced an unprecedented glut which continues to this day; drilling was halted in many areas and bankruptcies followed.
This was as true of Tulsa as of Houston, Dallas and part of the California area. The halt of drilling and marketing of oil resulted in the loss of jobs in many of the satellite industries that had developed as a result of the oil boom and now began to sink. What seemed to have been a huge labor shortage turned into a vast pool of unemployed, although it didn't reach the high level of unemployment in Detroit, New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago or Youngstown, Ohio.
The result was a significant decline in the mass migration toward the Sun Belt. Of course, the population of the Sun Belt has continued to increase, but not necessarily because of migrations from the Midwest, Middle Atlantic states and Northeast. For one thing, the region has a higher birth rate, but also and much more important is the increase in undocumented workers, notwithstanding severe government repression. As we indicated in Chapter 2, the agricultural workers--Latin and Black, sharecroppers and farm laborers--are generally the backbone of the food industry in this country and the basis for the tremendous agricultural capacity of the U.S.
Some of the bosses' reasons for migration to the Sun Belt were the right-to-work laws and a variety of other anti-union advantages to the industrialists, as well as lucrative racist practices in the South. This trend was facilitated over many decades by the increasing speed of transportation seen in the development of the automobile, the railroads and the airplane. The reversed trend in population shift cannot be fully accounted for by the collapse of the oil boom in the Sun Belt. The current reversal can only be more fully explained in terms of the continuing, relentless shift of capital to wherever even the momentary rate of profit is highest.
The earlier flow of high technology to California and to some enclaves in the Southern states has now given way to a flow of capital back to the Northeast and some of the Mid-Atlantic states for the same reason which prompted it to flow into the Sun Belt in the first place: a significantly higher rate of profit.
This recent trend in the population shift from the South to the North, as indicated by the charts and graphically shown by the 1984 Census Bureau statistics, is the result of one of those great "cooperative projects" between bankers, city governments, state legislatures and the industrialists to lure high tech. All too frequently this is done in the name of "getting jobs," but in reality it is an attempt by finance capital to once again flow into selected areas in the North and Mid-Atlantic states where the rate of profit has again become higher.
It is common knowledge that New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Michigan and some of the Mid-Atlantic states and the area around Boston's Route 128 have been offering tremendous concessions in taxes and creating special conditions for high-tech industries, which live on low wages notwithstanding all the glow and glitter about spawning multi-millionaires. In the New York-New Jersey area especially, "enterprise zones" have been established which are calculated to lure industry away from other states by offering lower wage levels free from many restrictions. Long Island in particular has become notorious because the limited economic upturn there is based mostly on pirating industry from other states.
States and cities now continually engage in a frantic bidding contest for industrial sites, all in the name of luring high technology. The setting up of "industrial parks" for a while creates excitement and an aura of coming prosperity, but ends up providing very low-paying jobs. It becomes a contest over which states and cities will offer the most anti-labor, pro-big business environment, in which prospective employers can expect to find docile, unorganized workers.
The population shift as evidenced by the 1984 census projections is of a tentative character as yet. It has to be monitored by the trade union movement as well as by Black, Latin and women's organizations from the point of view of being an attempt to lower the wage patterns. These studies should not be left to bourgeois sociologists or to demographers appointed by the various arms of the capitalist government that are working hand-in-glove with big business in flagrant and utter disregard of what it does to the living standards of the masses.
Population shifts also have to be viewed from the viewpoint of environmental impact, including the health and safety of the workers. It takes a heavy toll on men and women when in order to get work they must move to areas where housing, schools and recreation facilities are poor and/or inadequate.
What the reversed trend from the Sun Belt to the Frost Belt confirms is that shifts in the population are determined by the general economic laws governing capitalist society. It is not demography alone which explains this shift in the population. That is a surface manifestation. Of course, some geographical areas are more hospitable than others, but that has prevailed since the formation of the planet. In analyzing population trends under the capitalist system, it is the economic laws of capitalist development that have to be taken into account first of all.
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