Research / BFI Working PaperSep 01, 2020

Dust Bowl Migrants: Identifying an Archetype

The 1930’s American Dust Bowl created archetypal “Dust Bowl migrants,” refugees from environmental collapse and economic upheaval. I examine this archetype, comparing migration from more-eroded counties and less-eroded counties to distinguish Dust Bowl migrants from other migrants in this era. Migrants from more-eroded counties were more “negatively selected,” in years of education, than other migrants who were “positively selected.” These Dust Bowl migrants struggled economically, especially in California. Despite migrants’ struggles, however, I estimate strikingly modest impacts of the Dust Bowl on average incomes that contrast with its enduring impacts on agricultural land.

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