The Labor Market Effect of Mexican Repatriations: Longitudinal Evidence from the 1930s

Jongkwan Lee, Giovanni Peri, & Vasil Yasenov
Date of Publication: 
November, 2019
Source Organization: 

At the onset of the Great Depression (1929-1934), when millions of Americans were thrown out of work, some local politicians argued that Mexican workers in the U.S. should be “repatriated” in order to create employment opportunities for U.S.-born workers. Using census data from 1930 and 1940, this paper tests whether these removals actually improved the lot of U.S.-born, non-Mexican workers.  Approximately one-third of the entire Mexican population in the U.S. (at least 400,000 individuals) -- both first and second generation, both citizen and non-citizen -- were forced out of the country. As these removals were often organized locally, there was some variation in the appetite for removals on the part of local officials, allowing for an analysis of the impact of removals on local economies. Part of the variation also had to do with proximity to railroad lines, which reduced the cost of repatriation. Controlling for many possible variables, the researchers found “robust” evidence that the repatriation program reduced employment opportunities and wages for incumbent natives, in part because of the “complementarity” of Mexican and native workers.  Although economists have examined the labor market effects of sudden influxes of immigrants and refugees into the United States, this is one of the few papers that have looked at the labor market effects of a large outflow of immigrant workers. According to the authors, this study has special significance because it raises doubts as to whether the deportation campaigns of the Obama and Trump administrations will produce beneficial economic outcomes. (Nicholas V. Montalto, Ph.D.)

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Lee, J., Peri, G., & Yasenov, V. (2019, November). The labor market effect of Mexican repatriations: Longitudinal evidence from the 1930s (Working Paper No. 19-08). Retrieved from