Opinion: DACA recipients have greater financial outcomes

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Wong is the founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California San Diego and lives in San Diego.

For more than a decade, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has provided temporary relief from deportation as well as work authorization to more than 835,000 undocumented young people across the country. DACA has been a lifeline to many undocumented Americans, affording them protections to live and work in the United States — their home. However, DACA remains under attack in the courts, despite its success and the vital contributions its recipients have made to the United States. Although DACA survived the Trump administration’s attempt to terminate it — the U.S. Supreme Court concluded the attempt was arbitrary and capricious — an ongoing legal challenge led by Texas leaves its future uncertain.

From Sept. 7, 2022, to Dec. 17, 2022, I led efforts alongside United We Dream, the National Immigration Law Center and the Center for American Progress to field a national survey to further analyze the experiences of DACA recipients. This survey marks the eighth consecutive year that these organizations have surveyed DACA recipients and includes responses from 817 recipients across 42 states as well as Washington, D.C.

The survey illustrates the profound impact DACA has had on recipients’ lives and how DACA recipients make substantive contributions to their families, their communities and the United States at large. In all, approximately nine out of every 10 respondents (89.5 percent) are currently employed or enrolled in school. The findings discussed below show further evidence of the gains accessed through DACA.

DACA’s impact on employment: One of the components of DACA protection is work authorization. By granting recipients the ability to participate more fully in the labor force, DACA has had a major impact on employment and labor outcomes. The 2022 data show that more than eight out of every 10 respondents (83.1 percent) are currently employed. Among respondents ages 25 and older, the employment rate jumps to 90.7 percent.

According to the survey results, after receiving DACA:

  • 47.4 percent of respondents moved to a job with better pay.
  • 40.6 percent of respondents moved to a job with better working conditions.
  • 40.6 percent of respondents moved to a job that “better fits [their] education and training.”
  • 42.1 percent of respondents moved to a job that “better fits [their] long-term career goals.”
  • 46.6 percent of respondents moved to a job with health insurance or other benefits.
  • 13.7 percent of respondents obtained professional licenses, a figure that increases to 15.9 percent among respondents 25 years and older.

DACA’s impact on earnings: Eight years of our survey data make it clear that DACA has a positive and significant effect on wages. Respondents’ average hourly wage more than doubled from $11.22 to $28.27 per hour — a gain of 152 percent. The data also show that respondents’ average annual earnings come out to approximately $68,885, and their median annual earnings total $60,000. Higher reported earnings are important not just for recipients and their families, but also for the broader economy. As DACA recipients earn more, they pay more in taxes and are able to spend more, contributing to local, state and federal economic growth.

DACA’s impact on the economy: Beyond the fiscal implications of increased tax revenue, DACA recipients’ financial independence and stability translate to economy-boosting investments such as car and home purchases. Half (50.9 percent) of survey respondents reported buying their first car after receiving DACA. What’s more, states gain revenue from these large purchases in the form of sales tax and registration and title fees, while the community experiences the safety benefits of drivers being licensed and insured.

The data also show that 17.7 percent of respondents purchased their first home after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years and older, this figure increases to 22.4 percent — and both of these percentages have continued to increase over the eight years of surveying DACA recipients. Again, these investments have positive economic impacts such as job creation and new local spending in these neighborhoods.

Year after year, our survey data show that DACA has afforded recipients the ability to move into better economic situations with higher wages and greater financial security, all of which positively contribute to the U.S. economy. But as large as these economic gains are, they could be supercharged if DACA recipients were able to access a pathway to citizenship instead of temporary work authorization. Economic models suggest that past versions of a Dream Act would boost wages by as much as one-quarter for those who adjusted their legal status and have positive ripple effects across the U.S. economy.

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