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RWP 22-12, September 2022

An era of mass immigration into the United States ended with the onset of World War I in Europe, followed by the passage of restrictive immigration laws in 1921 and 1924. We analyze various sources of wage data collected in the 1910-1929 period to explore the impact of this significant disruption of the flow of immigration on the wages of unskilled labor. Our approach to identification entails examining differences in wages across local labor markets and industries differentially exposed to the disruptions in immigration due to different ethnic compositions of their immigrant populations in the pre-war era. We find evidence strongly suggesting that during the 1920s, industries and regions more affected by the disruptions in immigration experienced larger reductions in flows of immigrants that resulted in increased wages of unskilled labor.

JEL Classifications: J61, N31, N32

Article Citation

  • Cohen, Elior, and Jeff Biddle. 2022. “Immigration Disruptions and the Wages of Unskilled Labor in the 1920s.” Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Research Working Paper no. 22-12, September. Available at External Link


Elior Cohen


Elior Cohen is an economist at the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. His research interests lie at the intersection of labor and public eco…