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The Rust Belt is a concept more than a place. Most agree that the industrial cities of Ohio and southern Michigan belong to the Rust Belt, e.g., Youngstown, Toledo, Detroit. Much of the rest of the region is a matter of subjective judgment. The issue is not simply a question of how to deal with specific cities (e.g., Columbus, St. Louis, Duluth), but also the broad swath of land involved. For example, some restrict the Belt to the upper Midwest while others extend it as far west as Iowa or as far east as New England.


This research reported on this web site is built on an empirical definition of the Rust Belt based on 161 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) and 303 counties stretching from roughly from Connecticut and the Delaware-Lehigh Valley in the East to eastern Iowa. Both Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas are included. An Excel spread sheet providing the identified CBSAs and counties can be downloaded from here.

The definition uses current definitions of counties and metropolitan areas with data on the percent of the workforce in durable manufacturing at the peak of the manufacturing era as listed in the 1970 and 1980 U.S. census as taken from the National Historical Geographic Information System. "Rustiness," or more actually the potential for rustiness, and "beltiness" were both considered in forming the definition.


In this analysis the Rust Belt is limited to counties in CBSAs, both metropolitan and micropolitan, where the percent of the work force in durable manufacturing in either 1970 and 1980 (the peak of the manufacturing era) was at least 50% higher than the average CBSA (approximately 19.31% in 1970 and 18.86% in 1980, or about one of every five workers). 


Rustiness identified a concentration of CBSAs that included the usual suspects from the Midwest--Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio as well as Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, northern Kentucky along the Ohio River, southeastern Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa. Scattered places outside these areas were not included in the Rust Belt.

Additional Considerations

A judgment call was made to add Akron and Trenton, which did not meet the rustiness threshold but were cities located in the geographic band of places with long histories of manufacturing and manufacturing decline, and Worcester, whose CBSA stretches into Connecticut.

This definition is a working one and may be updated with more analysis of the trend data.

Citing This Definition

You are free to use my definition and list of CBSAs in your own research, but please have the courtesy to acknowledge use of my material.

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