The Economist on Mariel

The Economist just published a very nice writeup of my Mariel paper.The article captures the essence of the paper very nicely. Over 60 percent of the Marielitos were high school dropouts. It seems more than obvious today that if we want to find out what Mariel did, perhaps we should look at what happened to the wage of similarly educated workers who were living in Miami at the time. Remarkably, that had not been done until I wrote my Mariel reappraisal. As The Economist puts it: “Mr Borjas’s paper shows that empirical results may depend on exactly where researchers look.”

There is a lot of wisdom in those words. Just keep looking in all the wrong places, and one will never discover what the impact of immigration really is. For example, one empirical trick that is often used to “hide” the impact is to define the population of low-skill workers as the aggregate of high school graduates and high school dropouts (click here for a technical discussion, and pages 14-17 here for an English translation). Because there are tens of millions of high school graduates, the impact of immigration on the smaller group of the least skilled workers gets diluted. And it’s usually too late, only after the inevitable political reaction occurs, that we find out that some people were really harmed.

Here’s a quick link to a description of my Mariel analysis, to the paper itself, and to the data.

Odds and Ends on Mariel

Warning: Very geeky post.

Since I posted the final version of my Mariel paper earlier this week, I have heard from a number of people asking for all kinds of details about the paper. One of the nice things about having this blog is that I can quickly address these reactions/questions/doubts without having to resort to writing yet another paper. So here are some responses for those who are really into the minutiae of this stuff.

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Final Version of Mariel Study

My Mariel paper has now gone through the peer review process and it’s officially forthcoming at the Industrial and Labor Relations Review (the same journal that published Card’s original Mariel paper a quarter-century ago).


Here is a nice-looking graph that tells the whole story. The graph shows the 3-year moving average of the wage of male, non-Hispanic high school dropouts in and outside Miami between 1972 and 2002; the shaded area is a 95% confidence interval (i.e., the margin of error). It is obvious that something happened in Miami after 1980, the year of Mariel. It is also obvious that something happened in Miami after 1995, when coincidentally there was another large influx of Cuban refugees. All the data-fudging and wishful thinking in the world cannot change those simple facts. As I say in the paper, “The wage of high school dropouts in the Miami labor market fell significantly after the Mariel supply shock. Any attempt at rationalizing this fact as due to something other than the Marielitos will need to specify precisely what those other factors were.”

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Presenting the Mariel Paper

I’ve been traveling almost nonstop for the past 6 weeks (three times to Europe, twice to New York City, once to Washington, DC). On one of those trips, I presented my Mariel paper in the Workshop on Migration at the Barcelona GSE Summer Forum. Barcelona happens to be one of my favorite cities (it’s also sort of revisiting my roots, as I have Catalan ancestry). As you can tell from the discussion, this is a fun paper to give.

An Empirical Exercise: Mariel

The immigration debate is very contentious, with “factual” claims coming from every which way. Not surprisingly, I often hear people say that “you can’t believe anything anymore because you don’t really know what the guy/gal did to reach that result.” And those suspicions are perfectly justified.

I’ve been teaching for a long time, but it wasn’t until last semester that I discovered how useful it was to show students how research gets done in real time. I first tried it out with my Mariel paper, where I could go from the raw CPS data to this striking graph showing the negative effect of the Marielitos in a few minutes with a bare minimum of statistical manipulations.

Mariel Interactive Exercise

The top (blue) line gives a 3-year moving average of the weekly wage of working men outside Miami; the bottom (red) line gives the corresponding trend in Miami. I’ve now made this by-the-numbers exposition a standard part of my show whenever I present the Mariel paper at a seminar. It is far more convincing than my claiming: “This is what the data look like. Trust me!”

Some professors have told me that they would like to do something like this in their own classes. And it occurred to me that readers of this blog, many of whom have probably never seen how this type of data analysis is done, would be interested in taking a short video tour that illustrates how you can start from the raw data (publicly available at the IPUMS website); select the sample of low-skill, non-Hispanic men aged 25-59; calculate the average weekly wage of those workers in Miami and elsewhere; and, presto, end up with the graph above, documenting that something did indeed happen in Miami after 1980. Enjoy!

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On Mariel

A couple of readers of early drafts of We Wanted Workers made some comments last spring that planted an idea in my head: perhaps it was time to revisit Mariel and see what we could learn from that supply shock with the hindsight of 25-years worth of additional research.

I resisted the idea for a while, as I thought it would be a complete waste of my time. But it kept nagging me. So one Sunday morning I wake up, go downstairs to my office, and start looking at the March Current Population Surveys (CPS) for the 1980s. Within an hour, my monitor was flashing a graph like this one:

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 11.03.50 AM

And I remember saying out loud “What the heck!” except I didn’t use those words. I then spent the entire summer working time-and-a-half on my Mariel paper. The paper went through several rounds. I got a lot of feedback from many friends who read early drafts. And I even did something that I had never done before: I hired someone to replicate the entire exercise from scratch just to make sure it was right!

Continue reading “On Mariel”