The Enduring Impact of the American Dust Bowl: Short and Long-run Adjustments to Environmental Catastrophe
NBER Working Paper No. 15605
The 1930's American Dust Bowl was an environmental catastrophe that greatly eroded sections of the Plains. Analyzing new data collected to identify low-, medium-, and high-erosion counties, the Dust Bowl is estimated to have immediately, substantially, and persistently reduced agricultural land values and revenues. During the Depression and through at least the 1950's, there was limited reallocation of farmland from activities that became relatively less productive. Agricultural adjustments, such as reallocating land from crops to livestock, recovered only 14% to 28% of the initial agricultural cost. The economy adjusted predominately through migration, rather than through capital inflows and increased industry.