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Does Mexican immigration affect wages and employment of US natives?

Paper by Aaron Chalfin wins award at APPAM

Aaron Chalfin's (PhD '13) paper, “The E ffect of Mexican Immigration on the Wages and Employment of US Natives: Evidence from the Timing of Mexican Fertility Shocks” received the 2013 Best Comparative Paper Award from the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM). Aaron is now an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati's School of Criminal Justice.

In a nutshell, what was this paper about?

The paper, co-authored with Morris Levy, a PhD candidate in UC Berkeley's Political Science department, considers the effect of Mexican immigration on labor market outcomes among US natives. Given the tenor of recent public discourse on immigration, this topic has become a hot-button political issue. It has also given rise to a controversial literature in the field of labor economics. From an empirical standpoint, the question is difficult to answer because just as immigrants may affect US labor markets, US labor markets may have a corresponding pull on the level of immigration. In order to identify the effect of immigration, Morris and I leverage two empirical regularities with respect to immigration to the US from Mexico. First, an excellent predictor of the number of Mexican immigrants is the stock of Mexican nationals of prime migration age. Second, migrants from a given Mexican state tend to settle in US cities which have longstanding cultural ties to that state. As it turns out, the fact that each state in Mexico experienced its demographic transition at a different time has implications for the magnitude of historical flow of migrants to US cities. In particular, US cities that are linked to states that experienced fertility declines 17-50 years ago receive fewer immigrants than US cities that are linked to states that did not experienced as large a fertility decline. These empirical regularities work like a random assignment mechanism which assigns a different number of migrants to each US city in a given decade. Our findings indicate little evidence that Mexican immigration has an effect on either the wages or employment of US natives in any age or education group and contributes to a growing literature that reports few collateral consequences of immigration at a national level.

What does it mean to have your work honored in this way?

As academics, we spend countless hours gathering and cleaning data and thinking about how to best interpret our results. This is a paper that Morris and I have been working on for several years now. When your work is recognized in this way, it is an incredibly rewarding feeling.

You have a new position with the School of Criminal Justice and the University of Cincinnati. What will be your area of focus, in teaching and in research?

I study a number of different areas of criminal justice policy. My past research has considered the effect of capital punishment, the relationship between crime and the macroeconomy and whether or not there is a relationship between unemployment and crime. Much of my current research involves the effectiveness of municipal police departments. I currently teach Applied Statistics and Research methods.

GSPP seems to be gaining strength in the area of criminal justice policy. What do you see as some of its potential key contributions?

GSPP is a terrific place to come if you are interested in (studying) crime. With respect to the economics of crime, this is due, in large part, to the expertise of Professor Steve Raphael who is one of the most prolific scholars of criminal justice policy in the United States. Steve has written extensively on the relationship between unemployment and crime, the collateral consequences of incarceration, corrections policy and many other topics. For those interested in other disciplinary approaches, Professors Rob Macoun and Jack Glaser are among the foremost scholars in this area as well. Finally, it is important to recognize that, at an individual level, crime has various social antecedents. Professor Rucker Johnson's work on early childhood experiences and intergenerational mobility is a must read for anyone interested in this area.

Outside of GSPP, there are scholars in other departments who study crime as well—notably Professors Justin McCrary, Frank Zimring and Jonathan Simon at Berkeley's law school. If criminal justice policy is an interest of yours, I do not think there is a better place to be than at Berkeley.

What aspect of your GSPP education have helped you most in both your research and job process?

When you are in a PhD program, the biggest key to your success is an advisor who encourages you, provides you with opportunities for enrichment and finds ways to increase your visibility to the wider community of researchers. My advisor, Professor Steve Raphael, did this and more. I know I speak for Sarah Tahamont and Hosung Sohn (two of Steve's other students who recently graduated) when I say that we would not have been successful were it not for Steve's efforts.

With respect to the process of academic interviewing, I could not have made it through the process without the help and support of Cecille Cabacungan and Martha Chavez. Applying to faculty jobs is an extremely onerous process and Cecille and Martha took it upon themselves to assist me in sending copious amounts of information (papers, cover letters, CVs, teaching evaluations, etc.) to dozens of universities. Cecille and Martha are both very busy making it possible for GSPP to fulfill its academic mission—I am extremely grateful for all of their help.

Now that you've moved to Cincinnati, what will you miss most about Berkeley?

I miss the fantastic weather, the great cheap eats, all of the local amenities in the surrounding area and the cultural and intellectual vibrancy of the community. I even miss the local oddballs who warn us of the coming rapture and laser beam terrorism.