Refugees from Dust

That is the excellent title of a new NBER working paper by Jason Long and Henry Siu (the full title is “Refugees From Dust and Shrinking Land: Tracking the Dust Bowl Migrants“).

Here is the abstract:

“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.”

I would take from this that (1) Okies are stubborn (seems right); (2) other Americans were smart enough not to want to move into a dust bowl (yep).  The third point is interesting and surprising.  Here is what the authors have to say about it:

“Farmers in 1930 who left the Dust Bowl were more likely than persisters to experience downward occupational moves, becoming laborers in 1940 (21.6 versus 8.6%). However, this tendency for greater downward mobility was more than offset by their greater likelihood of experiencing upward moves toward semi-skilled or high-skilled occupations (39.0% for migrants versus 19% for persisters). The negative migration effect for non-farmers is driven primarily by the greater tendency of high-skilled migrants to transition into semi-skilled occupations relative to persisters (who were more likely to remain in a high-skill occupation).”

Kevin and I rented a kayak in California years ago and the employees seemed shocked that we were from Oklahoma.  With a serious look on their faces, they asked “how did you get here?”  Kevin replied with “by airplane” and stared at them.  Priceless.  How did you get here? like Okies are still living in the Dust Bowl unaware of modern technology? (heck even in the Dust Bowl they managed to move to California). Here’s a recent Google Earth photo of our place in Norman:


John Oliver’s brilliant takedown of Trump’s wall

Oliver lampoons the utter absurdity of the wall that Trump claims he will build between Mexico and the US (and that Mexico will pay for, of course).  The clip is 18 minutes long but definitely worth checking out in full:

Here’s a perfect visual symbol of the idiocy of the proposal:



Home is where the heart (and nagging parent) is, Chinese edition

China’s most popular search engine, Baidu, has created a heat map demonstrating the enormous exodus of people from the big cities to their hometowns for the New Year.  To give you an idea of the magnitude of the migration, even though the New Year doesn’t start until Thursday, 80 million people started heading home on Monday.

The Telegraph reports that “If someone uses a Baidu app in Beijing in the morning, then pings from the southwestern city of Kunming in the evening, a new trip will be registered and a straight line added from Beijing to Kunming. Lines glow white-hot during the biggest travel days of the holiday, which officially runs from Wednesday through Feb. 24 but unofficially includes many days on either end. The period of heightened travel is considered 40 days long.”

Here is a picture of Monday’s migration:


Here is the link to the real time map, for those of you who’d like to try your luck (I’ve tried four times and the site seems overwhelmed by visitors).

Not everyone is so anxious to get home, however.  The Washington Post, in an article titled “For unmarried, Chinese New Year brings dreaded parental nagging,” tells of the dread many unmarried Chinese feel about the prospect of going home.  Apparently there are manuals for how to deal with nagging parents and even rent-a-boyfriend businesses for particularly desperate young folk.

Mexico & Migration

The New York Times had an article on Sunday called “For Migrants, New Land of Opportunity Is Mexico.”  It had the following interesting points about migration and Mexico:

“The shift with Mexico’s northern neighbor is especially stark. Americans now make up more than three-quarters of Mexico’s roughly one million documented foreigners, up from around two-thirds in 2000, leading to a historic milestone: more Americans have been added to the population of Mexico over the past few years than Mexicans have been added to the population of the United States, according to government data in both nations.

Mexican migration to the United States has reached an equilibrium, with about as many Mexicans moving north from 2005 to 2010 as those returning south. The number of Americans legally living and working in Mexico grew to more than 70,000 in 2012 from 60,000 in 2009, a number that does not include many students and retirees, those on tourist visas or the roughly 350,000 American children who have arrived since 2005 with their Mexican parents.”

I didn’t find the second half of the article very convincing, however, since it relies heavily on anecdotal evidence and doesn’t broach the topics of drugs, violence, or the fact that the Mexican economy is tanking in 2013.  Trading economics has a nice figure (click for a better view) of Mexican GDP growth in the last 5 years.  So far Mexico has seen essentially zero GDP growth in 2013, causing the government and IFIs to drastically reduce forecasts.  If economic growth continues to stagnate, I predict a resurgence of migration north.


Migration and the power of art

I just learned of an excellent Mexican sculptor last week named Alejandro Santiago.  Sadly I learned of him and his work because he died of a heart attack at age 49.  He is most famous for the clay sculptures he created to represent all of the migrants who left his town in Mexico for a better life in the US.  Here are a couple photos of his figures:



The project was called 2501 Migrants and you can find much more of Alejandro’s terrific work by clicking on the link.