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Where Did the Workers Go? The Effect of COVID Immigration Restrictions on Post-Pandemic Labor Market Tightness

During the COVID pandemic there were unprecedented shortfalls in immigration. At the same time, during the economic recovery, the labor market was tight, with the number of vacancies per unemployed worker reaching 2.5, more than twice its pre-pandemic average. In this paper, we investigate whether these two trends are linked. We do not find evidence to support the hypothesis that the immigration shortfalls caused the tight labor market for two reasons. First, at the peak, we were missing about 2 million immigrant workers, but this number had largely recovered by February 2022 just as the labor market was becoming tight. Second, states, cities, and industries that were most impacted by the immigration restrictions did not have larger increases in labor market tightness. We build a shift-share instrument to examine the causal impact of the immigration restrictions and still find no evidence to support the hypothesis that the immigration restrictions were the underlying cause of increased labor market tightness.

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