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How Did the Miami Labor Market Absorb the Mariel Immigrants?

Posted: 17 Feb 2004  

Ethan G. Lewis

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 12, 2004


Card's (1990) well-known analysis of the Mariel boatlift concluded that this mass influx of mostly less-skilled Cubans to Miami had little impact on the labor market outcomes of the city's less-skilled workers. This paper evaluates two explanations for this. First, consistent with an open economy framework, it asks whether after the boatlift Miami increased its production of unskilled-intensive manufactured goods, allowing it to "export" the impact of the boatlift. Second, it asks whether Miami adapted to the boatlift by implementing new skill-complementary technologies more slowly than they otherwise would have. Using a confidential micro data version of the Annual Survey of Manufactures, I show that following the boatlift, Miami's relative output of different manufacturing industries trended similarly to other cities with similar pre-boatlift trends in manufacturing mix. The response of industry mix to the boatlift therefore appears to be small. Supporting the second type of adjustment, utilization of Cuban labor by Miami's industries rose proportionately to the supply increase generated by the boatlift. In addition, post-boatlift computer use at work was lower in Miami than other cities with similar levels of computerbased employment before the event, even among non-Hispanic workers in the same detailed cells defined by industry, occupation and education. This suggests the boatlift induced Miami's industries to employ more unskilled-intensive production technologies. The results suggest an explanation for why native wages are consistently found to be insensitive to local immigration shocks: markets adapt production technology to local factor supplies.

Keywords: Immigration, Heckscher-Ohlin, technical change

JEL Classification: J2, F1, O3

Suggested Citation

Lewis, Ethan G., How Did the Miami Labor Market Absorb the Mariel Immigrants? (January 12, 2004). FRB Philadelphia Working Paper No. 04-3. Available at SSRN: or

Ethan G. Lewis (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States

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