Ariell Zimran
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Environmental Migration and Race during the Great American Drought, 1935-1940
with Christopher Sichko
and Aparna Howlader Draft Coming Soon!

We study racial differences in internal migration responses to one of the most severe climatic shocks in US history---the Great American Drought of the 1930s. Using data from the 1940 census on 65 million adults, we find that individuals exposed to more severe drought between 1935 and 1940 were more likely to make an inter-county move in this period, and that this responsiveness was greater for blacks than for whites. Blacks' migration premium came despite blacks' systematic disadvantage in the economy of the 1930s and evidence along dimensions other than race that disadvantage may have limited individuals' ability to adapt to the drought through migration: for both blacks and whites, the migration of individuals with less education was less responsive to drought than was that of more educated individuals. We argue that these patterns were, in part, the product of the disparate effects of federal relief spending under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA): we find that such spending, which has been shown to have encouraged emigration of tenants, sharecroppers, and farm laborers by taking land out of production, had a greater emigration-inducing effects on blacks than on whites, and that controlling for AAA spending reduces, and in some cases eliminates, blacks' migration premium in response to drought. These results help to better understand the mechanisms governing migration responses to natural disasters and the role that migration and government policy can play in disadvantaged groups' responses to natural disasters.