When the US administration proposed eliminating most immigration from developing countries to help raise US workers’ wages, it cited an influential study by a Harvard economist that found the influx of Cubans into Miami following the Mariel Boatlift had sharply depressed local wages. But a few months earlier, senior fellow Michael Clemens had uncovered a major flaw in that study, invalidating its findings. Clemens and his coauthor, Jennifer Hunt of Rutgers University, showed that the drop in wages in the Harvard study simply arose from a flaw in the underlying data: wage surveys at the time started counting more low-wage non-Cuban workers as “native workers,” causing a spurious fall in measured wages. The study did not actually show that native workers were harmed.
CGD’s rapid response team injected Clemens’ much-needed data into a heated debate, prompting lawmakers to take a closer look at the real economic impacts of the proposal. Meanwhile, Clemens and his coauthor presented the work in several academic forums to ensure it passed the highest levels of research scrutiny.