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Immigrants Equilibrate Local Labor Markets: Evidence from the Great Recession


  • Brian C. Cadena
  • Brian K. Kovak


This paper demonstrates that low-skilled Mexican-born immigrants' location choices in the U.S. respond strongly to changes in local labor demand, and that this geographic elasticity helps equalize spatial differences in labor market outcomes for low-skilled native workers, who are much less responsive. We leverage the substantial geographic variation in employment losses that occurred during Great Recession, and our results confirm the standard finding that high-skilled populations are quite geographically responsive to employment opportunities while low-skilled populations are much less so. However, low-skilled immigrants, especially those from Mexico, respond even more strongly than high-skilled native-born workers. These results are robust to a wide variety of controls, a pre-recession falsification test, and two instrumental variables strategies. Moreover, we show that natives living in metro areas with a substantial Mexican-born population are insulated from the effects of local labor demand shocks compared to those in places with few Mexicans. The reallocation of the Mexican-born workforce reduced the incidence of local demand shocks on low-skilled natives' employment outcomes by roughly 40 percent.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian C. Cadena & Brian K. Kovak, 2013. "Immigrants Equilibrate Local Labor Markets: Evidence from the Great Recession," NBER Working Papers 19272, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19272
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Antonio Spilimbergo & Gordon H. Hanson, 1999. "Illegal Immigration, Border Enforcement, and Relative Wages: Evidence from Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1337-1357, December.
    2. David Mare & Melanie Morten & Steven Stillman, 2007. "Settlement patterns and the geographic mobility of recent migrants to New Zealand," New Zealand Economic Papers, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(2), pages 163-195.
    3. repec:oup:qjecon:v:129:y:2013:i:1:p:1-59 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Konstantinos Tatsiramos, 2009. "Geographic labour mobility and unemployment insurance in Europe," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(2), pages 267-283, April.
    5. Rebecca Diamond, 2016. "The Determinants and Welfare Implications of US Workers' Diverging Location Choices by Skill: 1980-2000," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(3), pages 479-524, March.
    6. Jesse Rothstein, 2012. "The Labor Market Four Years into the Crisis: Assessing Structural Explanations," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 65(3), pages 467-500, July.
    7. David H. Autor & Mark G. Duggan, 2003. "The Rise in the Disability Rolls and the Decline in Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(1), pages 157-206.
    8. repec:eme:rleczz:s0147-9121(07)00004-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Brian C. Cadena, 2013. "Native Competition and Low-Skilled Immigrant Inflows," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(4), pages 910-944.
    10. Petri Böckerman & Mika Haapanen, 2013. "The effect of polytechnic reform on migration," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(2), pages 593-617, April.
    11. Card, David, 2001. "Immigrant Inflows, Native Outflows, and the Local Labor Market Impacts of Higher Immigration," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(1), pages 22-64, January.
    12. Jaeger, David A., 2006. "Green Cards and the Location Choices of Immigrants in the United States, 1971-2000," IZA Discussion Papers 2145, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    13. Pia M. Orrenius & Madeline Zavodny, 2010. "Mexican Immigrant Employment Outcomes over the Business Cycle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), pages 316-320, May.
    14. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Erik Hurst & Matthew J. Notowidigdo, 2013. "Housing Booms, Manufacturing Decline, and Labor Market Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 18949, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Bartel, Ann P, 1989. "Where Do the New U.S. Immigrants Live?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 7(4), pages 371-391, October.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

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