DACA Recipients’ Economic and Educational Gains Continue to
By Tom K. Wong, Greisa Martinez Rosas, Adam Luna, Henry Manning, Adrian Reyna, Patrick O’Shea, Tom Jawetz, and
Philip E. Wolgin
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
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
Activists supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other
immigration issues gather near Trump Tower in New York, August 2017.
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
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,
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,
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.
The questionnaire was administered to an online panel of DACA recipients recruited by the partner organizations. Several
steps were taken to account for the known sources of bias that result from such online panels. To prevent ballot stuffing—one
person submitting multiple responses—the authors did not offer an incentive to respondents for taking the questionnaire and
used a state-of-the-art online survey platform that does not allow one IP address to submit multiple responses. To prevent
spoiled ballots—meaning, people responding who are not undocumented—the authors used a unique validation test for
undocumented status. Multiple questions were asked about each respondent’s migratory history. These questions were
asked at different parts of the questionnaire. When repeated, the questions were posed using different wording. If there was
agreement in the answers such that there was consistency regarding the respondent’s migratory history, the respondent was
kept in the resulting pool of respondents. If not, the respondent was excluded. In order to recruit respondents outside of the
networks of the partner organizations, Facebook ads were also used. Because there is no phone book of undocumented
immigrants, and given the nature of online opt-in surveys, it is not possible to construct a valid margin of error.