Mexican Bracero Exclusion Failed to Raise Wages or Employment for Domestic Farm Workers in the U.S.

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Study Examines Labor-Market Effects of Immigration Restrictions


Feb. 10, 2017 – In a joint study, researchers at Dartmouth College and the Center for Global Development have found that the policy of excluding nearly half a million Mexican braceros (manual laborers) from U.S. farms in the early 1960’s did not in fact raise wages and employment for domestic farm workers. The findings were released this week as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

The bracero exclusion removed almost half of the Mexican-born workers in the U.S. labor market at the time. Using newly digitized archival data on state-level farm wages and employment from the U.S. government, the authors found that farm wages in states with high exposure to bracero workers did not rise significantly faster than in states with low or no exposure to bracero workers after they were excluded from the country at the end of 1964. This refutes the claim made at the time by the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations—a claim that drove the decision to exclude the braceros—that it would benefit domestic farm workers. In high exposure states, farms lost, on average, one-third of their seasonal workforce. 

Furthermore, the average number of domestic seasonal farm workers did not rise significantly faster in high- and compared to low-exposure states after exclusion, “the opposite of what would be expected if bracero exclusion had crowded more domestic labor into farm work.”

Helping to account for the policy’s lack of labor market effects, the researchers found that the bracero exclusion accelerated mechanization in the production of crops where mechanization technologies had been developed. Production of other crops tended to fall. 

Available for comment are study co-authors Ethan G. Lewis, associate professor of economics at Dartmouth, at, and Michael A. Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, at Hannah M. Postel, research associate at the Center for Global Development, also served as a co-author.