REFUGEES FROM DUST AND SHRINKING LAND

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Refugees From Dust and Shrinking Land Tracking the Dust Bowl Migrants. Jason Long and Henry E Siu,NBER Working Paper No 22108. March 2016,JEL No J61 J62 N12 N32, We construct longitudinal data from the U S Census records to study migration patterns of those. affected by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s Our focus is on the famous Okie migration of the. Southern Great Plains We find that migration rates were much higher in the Dust Bowl than. elsewhere in the U S This difference is due to the fact that individuals who were typically. unlikely to move e g those with young children those living in their birth state were equally. likely to move in the Dust Bowl While this result of elevated mobility conforms to long standing. perceptions of the Dust Bowl our other principal findings contradict conventional wisdom First. relative to other occupations farmers in the Dust Bowl were the least likely to move this. relationship between mobility and occupation was unique to that region Second out migration. rates from the Dust Bowl region were only slightly higher than they were in the 1920s Hence the. depopulation of the Dust Bowl was due largely to a sharp drop in migration inflows Dust Bowl. migrants were no more likely to move to California than migrants from other parts of the U S or. those from the same region ten years prior In this sense the westward push from the Dust Bowl. to California was unexceptional Finally migration from the Dust Bowl was not associated with. long lasting negative labor market effects and for farmers the effects were positive. Jason Long,Department of Business Economics,Wheaton College. 501 College Ave,Wheaton IL 60187,jason long wheaton edu. Henry E Siu,Vancouver School of Economics,University of British Columbia.
6000 Iona Drive,Vancouver BC V6T 1L4,hankman mail ubc ca. 1 Introduction, The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was one of the greatest environmental and economic catastrophes. in U S history The severity of its environmental degradation farm failure and economic. dislocation have cemented the episode s place in the mythology of the American experience. Perhaps the most enduring image of the Dust Bowl is the exodus of destitute farmers and other. Okies from the Southern Great Plains one of the most famous episodes of internal migration. in American history However little systematic evidence has been brought to bear on even the. basic contours of this migration episode This research represents the first attempt to quantify. and analyze gross migration flows associated with this event. The Dust Bowl occurred as the confluence of drought erosion and economic depression. throughout the Great Plains The drought began in the winter of 1931 throughout most of. the 1930s and especially mid decade minimal precipitation high winds and pestilence led to. widespread crop failure While the effects were widespread matters were most severe in the. Southern Plains states of Colorado Kansas Oklahoma and Texas see Joel 1937 Cunfer. 2011 and the out migration from this region looms largest in the formation of the Dust Bowl. Poor seasons were not new to the Plains in the 1930s Yet in many ways the decade was. unprecedented One fundamental difference from previous droughts was the number of people. affected Between 1890 and 1930 the population of the Southern Plains states had increased. from 4 496 000 to 11 561 000 In the counties most greatly affected by the Dust Bowl as defined. below the population had increased from 14 000 to 121 000 Most striking was the severity. of the drought the worst in over a hundred years of formal meteorological record keeping 1. Dust storms like the famous Black Sunday storm of April 1935 were also more frequent and. damaging Severe wind erosion and occasional water erosion resulted in widespread loss of topsoil. and declining agricultural productivity These problems were exacerbated by the externalities. associated with small scale Plains agriculture which dis incentivized farmers from engaging in. basic erosion prevention measures see Hansen and Libecap 2004. The environmental calamity coincided with the U S and international Great Depression To. gether these shocks amplified long term structural change in agriculture due to mechanization. and consolidation and falling agricultural prices since the end of the First World War Prices. fell precipitously in the early 1930s severely impacting farm incomes Wheat prices fell from. 1 18 per bushel in 1928 to 38 cents per bushel in 1932 and 1933 cotton prices fell from 19 cents. to 6 cents per pound during the same period 2 Falling incomes coupled with farmers declining. access to credit due to the financial sector crisis led to foreclosure and farm loss. For more on this and on the general history of the Dust Bowl see Worster 1979 and Cunfer 2005. See U S Department of Agriculture s Economic Research Service http www ers usda gov and U S Bureau. of Agricultural Economics 1939, As a result the region experienced marked depopulation During the Dust Bowl decade. the most greatly affected counties shrank by 20 percent More broadly Hornbeck 2012 shows. that population declined by 12 percent in those Great Plains counties that experienced the. highest levels of erosion relative to counties with less erosion This trend was long lasting as the. bulk of long run reallocation of productive factors away from agriculture was achieved through. population decline as opposed to adjustments in land use. This displacement led to much public hand wringing and anger in places receiving the tide. of migration sweeping over the country see U S House 1941 page 68 and gave rise to. derogatory terms such as Okies and Dust Bowl refugees Perhaps the most vivid example. is that of the Los Angeles Police sending officers to patrol the California borders in order to. stem the immigration see Los Angeles Herald Express Feb 4 1936 No doubt the transient. problem was more general in scope due to the joblessness created by the Great Depression. But in the 74th Congress Senate Resolution 298 to investigate the social and economic needs. of laborers migrating across state lines and the establishment of the select committee by the. 76th Congress to investigate the interstate migration of destitute citizens it is clear that one. of the primary concerns was the issue of those fleeing the Dust Bowl see for instance the. Introductory Statement to U S House 1941, These factors came together to cement the Dust Bowl s place in American myth and to. make the exodus from the Southern Great Plains one of the most famous episodes of internal. migration in U S history The Dust Bowl loomed large in literature art and music from the. iconic images of the Farm Security Administration photography corps documenting the plight of. Plains farmers and its migrants to the folk songs of Woody Guthrie to films like Pare Lorentz s. The Plow that Broke the Plains Certainly the most enduring depiction in this regard remains. John Steinbeck s The Grapes of Wrath whose portrayal of the Joad family s move to California. has done so much to shape popular perception of Dust Bowl migration Finally the high profile. New Deal agencies and programs aimed at ameliorating the agricultural problems of the Dust. Bowl drew attention to the region and its difficulties. While much attention has been paid to the Dust Bowl and its depopulation much remains. unknown with respect to the relevant migration dynamics and the migrants themselves To. date we lack systematic representative data on individuals residing in the relevant Southern. Great Plains counties before the Dust Bowl occurred their characteristics and how their lives. were affected after the crisis abated 3 This research represents the first attempt to measure gross. migration associated with this event by assembling and analyzing just such data We document. See for instance Ferrie 2003 who discusses the lack of migration data prior to the 1940 census Prior to. this study nationally representative data on gross migration has been available from the Census Bureau only for. the period 1935 1940 Analysis of that data has also been at a much coarser state and or census division level. than that considered here and includes little information on the characteristics of migrants see U S Bureau of. the Census 1946, migration among the Okies of the Southern Plains those at the heart of the exodus mythology.
We document where residents of these counties in 1930 moved to and resided in 1940 We. also discuss how migration probabilities covaried by individual and county level characteristics. Finally we study the economic effects of migration from the Dust Bowl. In order to study migration phenomena we construct new longitudinal data at the individual. level for the decade between 1930 and 1940 and for the decade between 1920 and 1930 We do. this by linking individuals across U S Decennial Censuses. We find that inter county and inter state migration rates were much higher in the Dust Bowl. counties than elsewhere in the U S during the 1930s This difference is due to the fact that. individual level characteristics that were negatively associated with mobility elsewhere e g. being married having young children living in one s birth state were unrelated to migration. probability within the Dust Bowl While this result conforms to long standing perceptions of. the Dust Bowl our other principal findings contradict conventional wisdom First relative to. other occupational groups farmers in the Dust Bowl were the least likely to move by contrast. no such relationship existed between migration probability and occupation outside of the Dust. Bowl Second while the out migration rate from the Dust Bowl was high relative to other parts. of the country it was not much higher than from the same region in the 1920s Hence the. depopulation of the Dust Bowl was due principally to a sharp drop in in migration during the. 1930s Migrants from the Dust Bowl were no more likely to move to California than migrants. from any other part of the country Instead Dust Bowl migrants made relatively local moves. tending to remain in a Dust Bowl affected state Finally we find that migrants from the Dust. Bowl did not experience long lasting negative labor market outcomes relative to those who. stayed for farmers migration effects were positive These findings hold both in terms of reduced. form correlation and within the context of a structural model accounting for migrant selection. 2 Methodology and Data, We use two sources to construct our longitudinal data a computerized five percent sample. of the 1930 census made available by IPUMS see Ruggles et al 2010 and the complete. count 1920 1930 and 1940 censuses accessible through Ancestry com a web based genealogical. research service, With these sources we construct three datasets i 4 210 individuals living in a Dust Bowl. county as defined below in 1930 linked to the 1940 census ii 2 090 individuals living in those. same counties in 1920 linked to the 1930 census and iii a nationally representative sample of. 4 335 individuals linked between the 1930 and 1940 censuses All of our linked individuals are. male household heads simply referred to as heads hereafter between 16 and 60 years of age in. the relevant source year census Our definition of a head includes individuals designated as the. head of the family by census enumerators as well as non family males e g boarders lodgers. hired men residing in group quarters or in homes where a family head is present. Individuals were linked based on given name s last name race state of birth and year of. birth information that should barring error remain constant across censuses The linkages. were constructed manually by trained researchers Automated linkage was unsuitable for this. project for two reasons First a digitized version of the 1940 census was not available when. the research project was begun Second constructing the datasets for the Dust Bowl counties. required many more men living in those counties in the source years of 1920 and 1930 than are. available from the IPUMS census samples For these counties it was necessary to draw both the. pool of target individuals from the source year census and their linked record from the terminal. year census from Ancestry com, Some leeway in the matching algorithm was allowed for small discrepancies in reporting. personal information across census surveys Given names were allowed to vary slightly as long. as they matched phonetically and last names matched identically last names were allowed to. vary by one letter as long as they matched phonetically and given name s matched Reported. age in the terminal year census was allowed to deviate by up to three years from the value. reported in the source year 4, This linkage procedure produced datasets that are well representative of the target popula. tions Table 11 in Appendix A provides a summary of the data constructed and analyzed in the. rest of this paper Table 12 in Appendix A presents the same summary statistics for a random. sample of heads drawn from IPUMS indicating the representativeness of our matched sample. Though varying degrees of drought and erosion were experienced throughout the Plains. states see for instance Hansen and Libecap 2004 and Hornbeck 2012 we chose to focus. our attention on the Dust Bowl of the Southern Great Plains for two reasons First this is the. region at the heart of the exodus mythology as typified by the famous Okie migrants Second it. Refugees From Dust and Shrinking Land Tracking the Dust Bowl Migrants Jason Long and Henry E Siu NBER Working Paper No 22108 March 2016 JEL No J61 J62 N12 N32 ABSTRACT We construct longitudinal data from the U S Census records to study migration patterns of those affected by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s Our focus is on the famous Okie migration of the Southern Great Plains We find that

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