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

We study racial differences in internal migration responses to one of the most severe climatic shocks in US history---the 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 whites. Blacks' migration premium came despite their systematic disadvantage in the economy of the 1930s and evidence along dimensions other than race that disadvantage limited individuals' ability to adapt to the drought through migration. 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 AAA spending had a greater emigration-inducing effect 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 illuminate the mechanisms governing the magnitude and composition of migration responses to natural disasters as well as the roles of migration and government policy in disadvantaged groups' responses to natural disasters.