NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Political Economy of Immigration Restriction in the United States, 1890 to 1921

Claudia Goldin

NBER Working Paper No. 4345
Issued in April 1993
NBER Program(s):   DAE   LS

Anti-immigrant forces almost succeeded in passing restrictive legislation in 1897, but their plan did not ultimately materialize for another twenty years. During that time 17 million Europeans from among the poorest nations came to the United States. This paper explores the economic and political forces that propped the door open for those twenty years, as well as the factors that eventually shut it Economic downturns and their consequent unemployment almost always brought demands for restriction. The flood of immigrants eventually did result in large negative effects on the wages of native-born workers. But the political clout of immigrants was strengthened by the reinforcing nature of their flows. Cities having large numbers of the foreign born received a disproportionate share of immigrants during the 1900 to 1910 period. After 1910, however, immigrant flows were diluting. This factor and the negative impact of immigrants on native wages were important in the passage of restrictionist legislation, although the rural heartland of America was pro-restriction from the l890s.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4345

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