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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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March 28th, 2013
05:50 PM ET

Spring break: Boom or Bust?

Spring break has been celebrated on MTV, captured on "Girls Gone Wild," and immortalized by Van Halen. A study detailed in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson traces the ritual of spring breaking back to ancient Greece. There's always been drinking, dancing, general revelry - but not a whole lot of luxury.

"Basically the Greeks would do something not so dissimilar from today's; they would gather, they would sing, they would dance, they would actually have drinking competitions," says Derek Thompson, business editor with The Atlantic. "They would drink with cheap wine, we now drink with cheap beer. They used terracotta pots while we used red plastic cups. But essentially, thematically it was the exact same."

In this century, you'd think the booze-fueled debauchery would bring in big bucks to the towns where college students GO when they put aside their books for a week of fun and sun.

But you'd be wrong.

"Between 40% and 50% of students go en masse on spring break. The spend about $1 billion in Florida and Texas alone, so you would think that this would be an amazing local stimulus to this economy, but in fact it's not," says Thompson. "What's really happening is that these poor indebted students are being cheap, as we should expect them to be. They're buying the cheapest hotels in the area, they're buying cheap Doritos and cheap beer, and bringing them to the beach, and they're actually not spending a lot of money at these beach towns."

Take Panama City, long a destination for eager spring breakers and the source for plenty of spring break financial data. Tax revenue may increase during the college boom, but it's negligible. A 2004 study showed six straight weeks of spring break brought in $170 million to the local economy, but the sales tax revenues collected in the month of March were among the lowest of the year.

Other beaches in Florida see more action. In the travel promotion website Orbitz' list of the 10 most popular spring break destinations; half are in the Sunshine State.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado says having spring breakers in his city is a bit of a mixed bag.

"The good news is that you know the business in downtown was thriving and they were very happy," says Regalado. "The bad news was the traffic, the gridlock in traffic, and of course people in offices and residents of downtown that were complaining about the noise and the traffic and the kids roaming around at 2am, at 3am in the morning."

If spring break doesn't really boost a city's bottom line - Hollywood has found a way to cash in. A new movie, aptly titled, "Spring Breakers," captures the phenomenon. And while spring breakers may be low on inhibitions, as the movie depicts, in the end, they're also low on cash.

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