[Editor’s note: Recently, there have been strong and troubling indications that the Trump administration may act soon to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly referred to as “DACA.” Since its establishment in 2012, DACA has provided protection from deportation and the ability to work and attend school for more than 800,000 young people, including approximately 28,000 North Carolinians. In response to the prospect of such a cruel and inhumane act, an array of divergent groups is speaking out in loud opposition.
In an open letter released yesterday, hundreds of elected officials from around the country (including dozens from North Carolina) put it this way:
As the leaders of communities across the country—individuals and institutions that have seen these young people grow up in our communities—we recognize how they have enriched and strengthened our cities, states, schools, businesses, congregations, and families. We believe it is a moral imperative that the administration and the country know we are with them. We also join together to send our assurances to Dreamers: we see you, we value you, and we are ready to defend you.”
Meanwhile, a DACA fact sheet, the national Indivisible group points out that:
Removing DACA protections from these hundreds of thousands of young people would turn their lives upside down, and harm the communities where they live, work and study. The only beneficiary would be the for-profit private immigrant detention complex and Trump’s runaway deportation machine, which would embark on a new taxpayer-funded mission to apprehend, process, detain and remove these young people.”
And this is from a statement released in July by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.”
The story that follows, which first appeared earlier this week on the website of the Center for American Progress, provides a detailed examination of the benefits of DACA and the folly of ending such a successful program.]
Since it was first announced on June 15, 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy has provided temporary relief from deportation as well as work authorization to approximately 800,000 undocumented young people across the country. As research has consistently shown, DACA has not only improved the lives of undocumented young people and their families but has also positively affected the economy more generally, which benefits all Americans.
From August 1, 2017 to August 20, 2017, Tom K. Wong of the University of California, San Diego; United We Dream (UWD); the National Immigration Law Center (NILC); and the Center for American Progress fielded a national survey to further analyze the economic, employment, educational, and societal experiences of DACA recipients. This is the largest study to date of DACA recipients with a sample size of 3,063 respondents in 46 states as well as the District of Columbia.
The data illustrate that DACA recipients continue to make positive and significant contributions to the economy, including earning higher wages, which translates into higher tax revenue and economic growth that benefits all Americans. In addition, DACA recipients are buying cars, purchasing their first homes, and even creating new businesses. The survey’s results also show that at least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ DACA recipients. Moreover, 97 percent of respondents are currently employed or enrolled in school.
DACA’s impact on employment
Work authorization is critical in helping DACA recipients participate more fully in the labor force. The data show that 91 percent of respondents are currently employed. Among respondents age 25 and older, employment jumps to 93 percent.
After receiving DACA, 69 percent of respondents reported moving to a job with better pay; 54 percent moved to a job that “better fits my education and training”; 54 percent moved to a job that “better fits my long-term career goals”; and 56 percent moved to a job with better working conditions.
We also see that 5 percent of respondents started their own business after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years and older, this climbs to 8 percent. As the 2016 survey noted, among the American public as a whole, the rate of starting a business is 3.1 percent, meaning that DACA recipients are outpacing the general population in terms of business creation.
As one respondent stated, “I started a bookkeeping business which gives me the opportunity to help our Hispanic community be in compliance with tax law […] If DACA ended, I will not be able to keep my small business and help my community.”
Another respondent stated, “Because of DACA, I opened a restaurant. We are contributing to the economic growth of our local community. We pay our fair share of taxes and hire employees […] It will be hard to maintain my business if DACA ended. I depend on my [social security number] for a lot of my business, such as when getting licenses, permits, leases, and credit.”
DACA’s impact on earnings
The data make clear that DACA is having a positive and significant effect on wages. The average hourly wage of respondents increased by 69 percent since receiving DACA, rising from $10.29 per hour to $17.46 per hour. Among respondents 25 years and older, the average hourly wage increased by 84 percent since receiving DACA.
The data also show that respondents’ average annual earnings come out to $36,232, and their median annual earnings total $32,000. Among respondents 25 years and older, the figures are $41,621 and $37,595, respectively. These higher wages are not just important for recipients and their families but also for tax revenues and economic growth at the local, state, and federal levels.
Last year, we noted that further research is needed to parse out the short- and long-run wage effects of DACA as well as whether short-run gains represent a plateau in earnings or if more robust long-run wage effects may exist. This remains true. However, as DACA recipients are now further along in their careers, and as we continue to see growth in their earnings, it is likely there is even more room for recipients’ wages to grow.
The immediate impact of wage increases is evident in 69 percent of survey respondents reporting that their increased earnings have “helped me become financially independent” and 71 percent reporting that their increased earnings have “helped my family financially.” Among respondents 25 years and older, these percentages rise to 73 percent and 74 percent, respectively.
DACA’s impact on the economy
The purchasing power of DACA recipients continues to increase. In the 2017 study, nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 65 percent, reported purchasing their first car. The average cost paid was $16,469. As we have noted previously, these large purchases matter in terms of state revenue, as most states collect a percentage of the purchase price in sales tax, along with additional registration and title fees. The added revenue for states comes in addition to the safety benefits of having more licensed and insured drivers on the roads.
The data also show that 16 percent of respondents purchased their first home after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years and older, this percentage rises to 24 percent. The broader positive economic effects of home purchases include the creation of jobs and the infusion of new spending in local economies.
Additionally—and importantly—the data show that at least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies—including Walmart, Apple, General Motors, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot, and Wells Fargo, among others—employ DACA recipients. All told, these companies account for $2.8 trillion in annual revenue.
DACA’s impact on education
Overall, 45 percent of respondents are currently in school. Among those currently in school, 72 percent are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. The majors and specializations that respondents report include accounting, biochemistry, business administration, chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer science, early childhood education, economics, environmental science, history, law, mathematics, mechanical engineering, neuroscience, physics, psychology, and social work, to name a few.
When it comes to educational attainment, 36 percent of respondents 25 years and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Importantly, among those who are currently in school, a robust 94 percent said that, because of DACA, “I pursued educational opportunities that I previously could not.”
Our findings could not paint a clearer picture: DACA has been unreservedly good for the U.S. economy and for U.S. society more generally. Previous research has shown that DACA beneficiaries will contribute $460.3 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next decade—economic growth that would be lost were DACA to be eliminated.
As our results show, the inclusion of these young people has contributed to more prosperous local, state and national economies; to safer and stronger communities through increased access to cars and home ownership; and to a more prepared and educated workforce for the future. Ending DACA now would be counterproductive at best and, at worst, cruel. At present, 800,000 lives—as well as the lives of their families and friends—hang in the balance. At a time when the continuing existence of DACA is facing its most serious threat ever, understanding the benefits of the program for recipients; their families and communities; and to the nation as a whole is all the more important.
Tom K. Wong is associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Greisa Martinez Rosas is advocacy and policy director, Adam Luna is senior advisor for communications, Henry Manning is research fellow, and Adrian Reyna is director of membership and technology strategies at United We Dream. Patrick O’Shea is Mellon/ACLS public fellow at the National Immigration Law Center. Tom Jawetz is vice president for Immigration Policy and Philip E. Wolgin is managing director for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.
The authors thank all those who took the survey for their time and effort in helping to bring these stories to light.