Center for American Progress

DACA Boosts Recipients’ Well-Being and Economic Contributions: 2022 Survey Results
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DACA Boosts Recipients’ Well-Being and Economic Contributions: 2022 Survey Results

The eighth annual survey of DACA recipients shows, yet again, DACA recipients’ many contributions to their communities and the U.S. economy more broadly while highlighting the need for a pathway to citizenship.

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People gather for a rally to celebrate the 10th anniversary of DACA.
People gather for a rally to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in New York City’s Battery Park on June 15, 2022. (Getty/Michael M. Santiago)

This column contains a correction.

View the full survey

For the full survey results, please visit the link below.

For more than a decade, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) 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 September 7, 2022, to December 17, 2022, Tom K. Wong of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego, 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.

Just as with previous surveys, the 2022 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 writ large. In all, approximately 9 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.

This year’s questionnaire also included a survey experiment designed to uncover how dramatically life would change for DACA recipients if they no longer held DACA, providing even more evidence of the important role DACA plays in the lives of recipients.

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DACA’s impact on employment

One of the components of DACA protections 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 8 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. The 2021 survey showed that 79.8 percent of all respondents, and 86.4 percent of respondents ages 25 and older, were employed. The 2021 percentages were lower than results reported in previous surveys, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn. The increase from 2021 to 2022 may thus correspond with the subsiding coronavirus pandemic and the economic recovery.

According to the 2022 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 data make it clear that DACA has a positive and significant effect on wages. Respondents’ average hourly wage more than doubled from $11.92 to $28.27 per hour—a gain of 137.2 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.

Moreover, recipients and their families have achieved greater financial independence and security with the increased earnings they’ve accessed through DACA:

  • 65.7 percent of respondents reported that their increased earnings have “helped [them] become financially independent.”
  • 64.5 percent reported that their increased earnings have “helped [their] family financially.”
  • 29.7 percent reported that their increased earnings have “helped [them] take care of an elderly parent or relative.”

Another noteworthy illustration of this point is DACA recipients’ ability to help defray costs, such as schooling and child care, through these higher earnings. Among respondents currently in school, 58.2 percent reported that their increased earnings helped pay for tuition, and among respondents with children, 41.7 percent reported that their increased earnings have helped to pay for child care expenses.

DACA’s impact on the economy

Beyond the fiscal implications of increased tax revenue, DACA recipients’ financial independence and stability translates 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, the 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 and have positive ripple effects across the U.S. economy.

DACA’s impact on education

Overall, 26.1 percent of respondents are currently in school—a large majority (69.0 percent) of whom are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. When it comes to educational attainment, 47.2 percent of respondents currently not in school reported already having a bachelor’s degree or higher. Importantly, among those who are currently in school, a robust 67.6 percent said that because of DACA, “[They] pursued educational opportunities that [they] previously could not.”

The uncertainty of life with DACA due to its temporary, uncertain status

Although DACA has provided two-year intervals of protection from deportation and work authorization to recipients for the past decade, these protections are temporary and under threat. DACA has been under relentless attack from anti-immigrant actors seeking to eliminate all forms of reprieve for immigrants. The previous administration tried to end DACA but was thwarted in 2020 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite this decision, anti-immigrant state officials have continued to challenge DACA. In a lawsuit brought by Texas challenging the legality of DACA, a federal district court ruled that the 2012 memorandum authorizing DACA was unlawful and issued a nationwide injunction halting DACA. Although the court order allowed the government to continue processing DACA renewals while the case is under appeal, it barred the government from adjudicating first-time DACA requests. As the Texas challenge made its way through the courts, the Biden administration issued a final DACA rule, which replaced the 2012 DACA memorandum on October 31, 2022. While the appeals court agreed with the district court that the 2012 DACA memo was unlawful, it sent the case back to the district court to consider the legality of the Biden administration’s final DACA rule. Meanwhile, the nationwide injunction remains in place and has been preliminarily applied to the final rule. Current DACA holders can continue renewing their DACA for now, but a final court decision in Texas’ favor could result in a permanent shutdown of DACA within two years of the final judgement.

Without establishing access to a pathway to citizenship, for which Congress would have to pass legislation, DACA recipients will face uncertainty and fear of deportation and separation from their families.

If they lose their protections, DACA recipients could face widespread harm, such as potential detention, deportation, and family separation. Nearly 9 in 10 respondents (88.5 percent) reported concerns about either their or their family’s physical safety; ability to access health care or education; food security; or risk of homelessness if they were deported.

Furthermore:

  • 76.7 percent reported: “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about the physical safety of myself and my family.”
  • 69.9 percent reported: “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about the quality of healthcare for myself and my family.”
  • 63.9 percent reported: “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about the quality of education for myself and my family.”
  • 57.9 percent reported: “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about food insecurity for myself and my family.”
  • 41.5 percent reported: “In my country of birth, I would be concerned about homelessness for myself and my family.”

By nature of the eligibility requirements originally set in 2012, all DACA recipients have been in the United States since at least 2007, and many have called the United States home for most of their lives. Among this year’s survey respondents, a DACA recipient’s average age of arrival to the United States is just 5.9 years old. The findings drive home a painfully obvious truth: Deporting DACA recipients could result in irrevocable harms to their physical safety, well-being, and livelihood.

Deporting DACA recipients could result in irrevocable harms to their physical safety, well-being, and livelihood.

Beyond concerns about how different life would look in their country of birth, DACA recipients bear the burden of DACA’s uncertain future and what it would mean to lose these protections. More than 4 in 10 survey respondents (42.6 percent) reported that they think about being deported from the United States at least once per day; meanwhile, more than half (52.0 percent) reported that they think about a family member being detained or deported at least once per day.

The fears surrounding family separation are even more urgent and widespread for DACA recipients who are parents themselves. Among respondents with children, 67.2 percent reported that they think about “being separated from [their] children because of deportation” at least once per day, while 64.7 percent reported thinking about “not being able to see [their] children grow up because of deportation” at least once per day.

The consequences of life without DACA

This year’s questionnaire also included a survey experiment designed to uncover the consequences of life without DACA. Some respondents were randomized to receive the control prompt, “How likely are you to do the following?” Other respondents were randomized to receive the treatment prompt, “If you no longer had DACA, how likely are you to do the following?”

By comparing the differences between the control and treatment prompts, it is possible to quantify how much life would change for DACA recipients if they no longer had DACA protections. For example, when asked how likely respondents are to “Participate in public events where police may be present,” 68.1 percent in the control prompt responded “Likely” or “Very Likely.” However, in the treatment prompt, only 27.9 percent responded “Likely” or “Very Likely.” This means that 40.2 percent of DACA recipients would be less likely to participate in public events where police may be present if they no longer had DACA. This result, and all those following, are highly statistically significant (with a p value < .000).

Regarding education, without the protection of DACA, 63.6 percent of DACA recipients would be less likely to continue their education, and 65.3 percent would be less likely to pursue new educational opportunities.

On the employment side, 46.6 percent of DACA recipients would be less likely to look for a new job, 48.5 percent would be less likely to report wage theft or other abuses by their employer, and 66.6 percent would be less likely to pursue an occupational license.

Not having DACA would also have a chilling effect on recipients’ interaction with public institutions. For example, 37.4 percent of DACA recipients would be less likely to report a crime they witnessed, and 34.8 percent would be less likely to report a crime of which they themselves were victim. Moreover, 43.0 percent of DACA recipients would be less likely to use public services that require providing personal contact information, such as going to city hall, and 54.6 percent would be less likely to conduct business with institutions that required personal contact information, such as opening a bank account or getting a loan for which they are qualified.

These many examples offer even more evidence of the important role DACA plays in the lives of recipients. DACA’s uncertain future continues to weigh heavily on the minds of recipients, whose lives and families will be severely disrupted if DACA’s protections are eliminated.

See also

Conclusion

DACA has opened the doors for recipients to pursue many opportunities, from increased access to education opportunities to financial security and independence. These benefits have also flowed to their local communities and to the entire United States. Unfortunately, nothing short of congressional action can ensure DACA recipients are able to continue on this trajectory and alleviate the daily concerns many DACA recipients harbor about their and their families’ futures in the United States.

The authors would like to thank all those who completed and shared this survey.

Methodology

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 and DACA application 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.

* Correction, January 22, 2024: This column has been updated to accurately state DACAs effect on recipients average hourly wages.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Authors

Tom K. Wong

Senior Fellow

Center For American Progress

Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec

Senior Associate, Immigration Policy

National Immigration Law Center

Diana Pliego

Strategist, Federal Advocacy

National Immigration Law Center

Karen Fierro Ruiz

Federal Policy and Advocacy Manager

United We Dream

Debu Gandhi

Senior Director, Immigration Policy

Center For American Progress

Trinh Q. Truong

Policy Analyst, Immigration

Center For American Progress

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka

Former Director of Research, Rights and Justice

Center For American Progress

Team

Immigration Policy

We aim to create a fair, humane, and workable immigration system in the United States through comprehensive data analysis, research, and advocacy.

Explore The Series

Photo shows a young child wearing a white and yellow shirt and a mask with an adult's hand gently touching her head

Since 2015, the Center for American Progress, along with Tom K. Wong, United We Dream, and the National Immigration Law Center, have fielded a national survey to analyze the experiences of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. The survey results illustrate the profound impact that DACA has on recipients’ lives and how DACA recipients make substantive contributions to their families, their communities, and the United States overall. Specifically, the results have shown how DACA protections have enabled recipients to access better educational and job opportunities. The demographic data collected by the survey enable policymakers to understand how essential DACA recipients are in the fabric of American society.

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