Rust Bowl

DEFINITION of 'Rust Bowl'

A geographic region that was formerly a manufacturing or industrial powerhouse, but is now in deep, seemingly irreversible decline. While a "Rust Bowl" can occur anywhere in the world, it is most commonly-used with reference to the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, which were previously dominant in automobile and steel manufacturing.

Also known as "rust belt."


Conjuring up images of abandoned factories and rusting vehicles, the term "Rust Bowl" essentially epitomizes catastrophic economic change. It became increasingly popular in the 1980s as America's global dominance in automobile manufacturing and steel-making was steadily eroded by the rise of formidable competitors in Japan and China respectively. As U.S. market share shrank substantially in these industries, many factories were forced to shut down permanently, eliminating thousands of well-paying jobs and throwing local economies into a downward spiral.