[Editor’s note: This report, along with charts, graphs and footnotes, can be viewed in its original PDF format by clicking here.]
Congress has just a few days left this month to enact legislation that would address the immigration status of at least 1 million immigrants who arrived in this country as children after President Trump announced in September his plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. Failure to act will mean that beginning on March 6, 2018, 915 people on average will fall out of DACA status each day.
Recently released data from the Migration Policy Institute provides additional insight into the specific impact to industries in North Carolina of the failure to find a legislative solution for young immigrants. Inaction in the effort to identify a pathway for young immigrants to achieve legal status to work, learn and participate fully in communities will cause well-documented economic harm to the growth, revenue and earnings in the country and North Carolina.
Beyond the harm to business and the economy, the lived experience for tens of thousands of young people in North Carolina of losing status and the connection to opportunities in the state they call home will ripple through families and communities.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy was initially introduced through an Executive Order in 2012 by President Obama to address the needs of some undocumented immigrants who had arrived to the United States as minors – a subpopulation within the undocumented immigrant community. DACA provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization (applicants must apply for renewal after two years), and has led to an increase in employment opportunities and participation in higher education among many beneficiaries.
DACA Population Contributes to the State’s Labor Force
Young people with DACA, also known as DREAMers, in North Carolina are working and going to school. In North Carolina, 28 percent of DREAMers are enrolled in high school, while 12 percent are in post-secondary institutions. These enrollment levels are higher than the national average for DREAMers in high school and lower than the national average for DREAMers in post-secondary. This difference could in part be attributed to the lack of tuition equity for young people with DACA status in North Carolina that would remove a barrier to post-secondary education. More than half (53 percent) of DREAMers are employed. Of that 53 percent, 12 percent are also going to school.
Immigrants and children of immigrants are making a contribution to the growth of the labor force and in turn the economy. Young immigrants are an increasingly important part of the workforce in North Carolina, particularly in many communities where the native-born population is aging or declining. Recent analysis by the Pew Research Center found that the country’s working age-population would decline by 2035 absent projected immigration, both legal and unauthorized.
High levels of labor force participation from immigrants and the opportunities to build skills to match employers’ needs and pursue entrepreneurial endeavors can strengthen the economy for everyone in our state. Providing immigrants who arrive here as children with status to work and study will integrate them into the country’s economic engine and help boost the wages of everyone. First, increasing the wages of DREAMers means more consumer demand and more jobs. Second, helping DREAMers to access jobs in the formal economy means employers are less able to depress wages across the board by preying on the vulnerability of undocumented workers.
DACA Population Working in Growth Industries in North Carolina
The DACA population is working in industries that are important to the state’s economic health. The greatest concentrations of workers who are DREAMers are in Recreation, Accommodation and Food Service (26 percent), Construction (17 percent) and Manufacturing (17 percent). Construction and Manufacturing are industries that are notable for their provision of higher wages and contributions to additional community benefits such as the provision of housing and infrastructure and the potential connection to local supply chains.
DACA Population Concentrated in Key Jobs Serving North Carolina Communities
In addition to identification of the industries where DREAMers are working in the greatest concentrations, it is also valuable to review the jobs or occupations that DREAMers are working in. The Migration Policy Institute notes that their analysis of this data for the DACA population shows the important reality of their education in the U.S. educational system and the additional training opportunities available through DACA status. Notably in North Carolina, DREAMers’ work includes personal care and services, health care, office administration, production and transportation, as well as already noted roles in Construction and Food Preparation and Serving. The national research by the Migration Policy Institute finds that DACA can be a means to occupational mobility, with DACA holders more likely than young unauthorized immigrants to hold jobs in middle-wage or professional occupations.
Alexandra Forter Sirota is the Director of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.