“The Dust Was Long in Settling”: Human Capital and the Lasting Impact of the American Dust Bowl | Abstract

I find that childhood exposure to the Dust Bowl, an environmental shock to health and income, adversely impacted later-life human capital—especially when exposure was in utero—increasing poverty and disability rates, and decreasing fertility and college completion rates. Although the Dust Bowl was most damaging via the destruction of agricultural livelihoods, the collapse of farming nevertheless had the beneficial effect of increasing high school completion, likely by reducing the demand for child farm labor. Lastly, New Deal spending helped remediate Dust Bowl damage, suggesting that timely and substantial policy interventions can aid in human recovery from natural disasters.