Migration during the Great American Drought
Sichko, Christopher Thomas
Migration is a basic adaptation method to inhospitable environments and has large economic consequences for the migrants themselves and for the economy as a whole. I create new datasets using individual-level census data and county-level drought conditions to study how the worst drought in United States history, which stretched from 1930 to 1939, influenced migration flows, the composition of migrants, destinations, and labor-market outcomes. I find that the drought impacted decisions to move and where to go, especially after 1934, which was the worst year of drought in the last millennium. Yet, I find that it was primarily highly educated people who increased their migration rates in response to drought. People with less education disproportionately persisted in drought counties as their migration decisions were more often financially constrained. Finally, I find that returns to migration, as measured by employment status and wage income in 1940, varied by individual education. Migrants with little formal education were less likely to be employed and made less compared to similar non-migrants from their origin county. More highly educated migrants fared better in finding work and wage income. These findings contribute to a more complete and nuanced view of how temporally long, geographically widespread, and severe climatic deviations heterogeneously influence migration decisions, and the repercussions of climate migration for migrants and for the geographic distribution of human capital.