Forfeiting the trillion-dollar dream

The long-term, staggering human and economic cost of ending DACA

June 2024


In 2012 President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. The policy allowed some Dreamers—undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children—to be temporarily protected from deportation and to work legally. Within a couple of years, more than 800,000 individuals—mostly individuals who were then high school students and college-aged young adults—were approved for DACA, with most renewing their DACA status every two years.

DACA has been one of the most successful immigration and integration policies of the last several decades. Being 31 years old, and living in the U.S. for 25 years, on average, DACA recipients have already contributed tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy while also paying tens of billions in federal, payroll, state, and local taxes. With DACA, Dreamers are teaching children, delivering lifesaving healthcare, and creating jobs for U.S. workers by leading homegrown American businesses. Many Dreamers have since gotten married, bought homes, had children, and have advanced in their careers.

From the start, DACA was intended to be a temporary fix, giving Congress enough time to pass a bipartisan legislative solution for Dreamers. More than a decade later, Congress has been unable to provide a pathway to citizenship for this population. Nevertheless, DACA has still proven to be life-changing, providing immigrant youth with opportunities to study, contribute to the U.S. economy through their careers, and ultimately build families of their own. As of 2024, most DACA recipients have been enrolled in the policy for a decade or longer.

Since 2017, however, the DACA policy has been volleyed back and forth in the courts and challenged at all levels, including at the Supreme Court. DACA will likely face a challenge in the Supreme Court again, potentially within the next year, based on legal steps of states such as Texas to persuade the courts to cease the policy. The reality is that DACA could end quite soon, throwing the futures of the hundreds of thousands younger adults and their families into further uncertainty, along with any hope for other DACA-eligible and younger Dreamers to access protections.

While DACA has remained in place for current DACA recipients during legal challenges, the courts have restricted it to benefiting mostly those who initially applied within the first five years of the policy, so those who did not apply during this time, or who only became eligible later, cannot get DACA today. This has effectively locked out hundreds of thousands of would-be DACA recipients from benefiting from the policy. And since the initial eligibility requirements have not been updated, like the required arrival date, hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who came to the U.S. after 2007 have no way to access this relief. As a result, more than 100,000 Dreamers graduating from high school every year will never be allowed to apply for DACA. Despite political differences on other immigration issues, a majority of lawmakers, along with the U.S. public, agree that upending the futures of Dreamers is morally wrong and economically foolish.

In response to these real threats to DACA, the Coalition for the American Dream gathered some of the country’s most respected social scientists to quantify the costs of ending DACA—including for DACA recipients, other individuals who remain eligible for the policy, their families and their communities, and for the broader U.S. economy. In pure economic terms, even though those eligible for DACA represent slightly more than a million people, the results of this report demonstrate the outsized impact they are having on their families and communities, to the tune of up to one trillion dollars over their working lifetimes, or equivalent to the annual GDP of Illinois.

The report aims to provide a running tally of the economic costs of ending DACA while also lifting up the lived experiences of real-life DACA recipients. Economics aside, ending DACA would be devastating for the 500,000 or more remaining recipients and the nearly 1 million U.S. citizens who live with them. Their families rely on the DACA policy day after day to provide for them and to keep their families whole.

As this report shows, ending DACA, and the hope for a pathway to citizenship for other Dreamers, would be detrimental to our economy. It would upend industries and devastate families, creating new levels of poverty and denying these families the opportunity to have the American dream they’ve worked so hard to achieve. In wake of the legal threats, Congress still has an opportunity to do what is right and best for Dreamers and our economy.

We would like to thank Coalition for the American Dream members Apple and Eli Lilly for their financial support of this research.


Ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy for undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children would be a disastrous and unnecessary calamity for recipients and their families. Also, the U.S. economy would suffer significantly, at local levels particularly, as hundreds of thousands of families face extreme disruption.

The dream and promise of this generation of DACA recipients has already begun, and has been ongoing for years—but most of it is yet to come. Ending it would mean FORFEITING A TRILLION-DOLLAR DREAM, when accounting for the wasted investments and squandered economic contributions in the last decade, as well as the future economic losses and costs that could result from ending DACA. The most significant and tangible impacts are highlighted below.

Profound disruptions for families:
  • Nearly 1 million U.S. citizen family members, including 90,000 spouses and 300,000 children of DACA recipients, would face separation from a DACA loved one.
  • An estimated 120,000 U.S. citizen children would be pushed into poverty.
  • Some 118,000 children would have narrower access to healthcare with the loss of private health insurance of a DACA recipient parent.
Squandered economic investments in the DACA population:
  • Some $8 billion in business training and recruitment costs for current DACA employees could be lost.
  • At least $63 billion in past investment for K–12 education could be for naught.
Long-term future economic losses and costs:
  • Up to $648 billion in future economic losses are predicted.
  • As much as $150 billion in future revenue could be lost to state and local governments.
  • A minimum of $30 billion in lost business income from DACA-owned businesses could disappear.
  • As much as $10 billion in federal government costs could be incurred over the next three decades to support 120,000 U.S. citizen children pushed into poverty.
  • More than $8 billion in business retraining and recruitment costs to replace DACA employees could be required.
U.S. workforce and businesses impacted:
  • About 440,000 DACA recipient workers could be lost from the U.S. workforce.
  • As many as 168,000 U.S. jobs in DACA-owned businesses could be lost.

These are just some of the largest losses associated with ending DACA. Many more secondary-level impacts and past investments are not included in this list (see our methodology here). All together, we estimate that the full cost of this forfeited dream could reach one trillion dollars.

It’s clear—morally and economically—that ending DACA would have staggering costs to hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families, and to the entire U.S. economy, felt in urban centers to small towns across the nation. As the numbers in this report show, Congress must pass a legislative solution for DACA recipients and other undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children before the policy potentially ends. Otherwise, America will forfeit the amazing contributions DACA recipients are making to this trillion-dollar dream.

DACA recipients: Then and now

When the DACA policy began in 2012, DACA recipients were generally young adults, mostly enrolled in high school or in college or starting their careers. A total of 835,000 individuals have benefited from DACA since its inception.

Since the establishment of DACA, recipients have contributed an estimated $140 billion to the U.S. economy in their spending power, in addition to their combined federal, payroll, state, and local taxes amounting to about $40 billion dollars. This has allowed DACA recipients to spend money in their local economies, buying homes and cars, investing in their neighborhoods, and supporting community organizations that continue today and into the future. As an example, since most came as young children, state and local governments have already invested an estimated $63 billion in K-12 public education for this population to prepare them for their future careers.

Once I got DACA, I was able to get an ID and a Social Security number. This helped me get a bank account and apply for jobs. I got my first job at a youth summer program. I’ve been saving up ever since then and just doing a lot on my own. I pay my own phone bill, I buy things for the house, I help my mom out with any bills that she needs help with, I buy things for my sister, and I try to send things back home."

Diane, immigrated at 9 years old from Jamaica.

Some DACA recipients from that initial group have left the U.S., did not renew their DACA, or found a pathway to adjust their status, but more than 500,000 DACA recipients remain. These individuals have grown up in the United States and are now building careers and establishing families in a country they’ve called home for decades.

On average, DACA recipients:

  • Are 31 years old;
  • Have lived for 25 years in the U.S.

They are highly educated:

  • 96% have graduated from high school.
  • 49% have some college education.
I applied as soon as [DACA] came out, I didn’t wait for it for a minute…And once I got it, it was a big change in our life. First thing I did was to get my driver’s license. I bought a car…I also started to apply to jobs that weren’t possible before…I could use my degree and pursue the career I trained for. Having a job in your career was really a turning point."

Rohil, immigrated at 9 years old from Bangladesh

They are contributing significantly to the U.S. economy:

  • 83% are in the labor force.
  • 22% own their home.

They are building families:

  • 31% are married.
  • 38% have children.

DACA recipients, having lived most of their lives in the U.S., are virtually indistinguishable in many life metrics from their U.S. citizen peers. For example, the majority of both DACA recipients (87%) and U.S. citizens (85%) ages 25 to 34 participate in the U.S. labor force. More than half of both groups of similar ages—DACA recipients (54%) and U.S. citizens (69%)— have attained some college education. Additionally, both groups earn similar median annual incomes of around $40,000 annually.

I got DACA in high school. It gave me more motivation. I’m like, ‘Okay, I can actually become somebody in this country.’ Everything started to change. I acquired my driver’s license. I was in the system…I would have to pay $500 every two years and a lawyer’s fee. It was still worth it because at least then, I couldn’t just be deported for the sake of it."

Raj, immigrated at 6 years old from Guyana.

DACA recipient characteristics and losses of ending DACA, by state
Select state for local estimates
DACA recipients in United States
Costs of ending DACA in United States
-$234 billion
-$5 billion
-$1.3 billion
Source: Analysis of’ augmented 2022 American Community Survey data. See methodology for more information.
Note: Data unavailable for all states due to smaller populations of DACA recipients.

Half a million families, including hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizen children, face severe financial and health risks

An estimated 500,000 American families include at least one DACA recipient. They live with their parents, siblings, spouses, and children, including nearly one million U.S. citizens. Many of these family members rely on their DACA recipient family members for economic survival and continued ability to thrive.

It’s hard to think about the future. At this point in my life, my entire family is relying on me. My mother is ill and my father is taking care of her…my sister and I both have DACA. Neither of us will be able to work without [DACA]. I don’t want to think about how we will survive."

Sabrina, immigrated at 4 years old from Brazil.

Additionally, many DACA recipients now have their own families. Nearly one-third are married and more than one-third are parents of a U.S. citizen child, including:

  • 170,000 married DACA recipients, among whom 90,000 married to U.S. citizens;
  • 200,000 DACA recipient parents, with 300,000 U.S. citizen children of all ages, from preschoolers to teenagers.
If DACA were eliminated, 233,000 school-aged children of DACA recipients would be impacted, including several thousand in some of the country’s largest school districts:

in Phoenix’s public school districts


in Chicago Public Schools


in Los Angeles Unified School District


in Houston Independent School District


in New York City public schools


 in Oakland Unified School District


in Miami-Dade Public Schools

Up to 118,000 U.S. citizen children could lose the private health insurance they now receive through their DACA recipient parents, directly endangering their physical and mental health. This would force additional costs on state and local governments to meet the healthcare needs of U.S. citizen children.

The majority (78%) of U.S. citizen children in DACA-recipient families live above the poverty line. But the loss of employment for one or two DACA parents could push an estimated 120,000 additional U.S. citizen children into poverty. This could lead to at least $10 billion in shelter, food, tax expenditure, and healthcare costs to the federal government during the next decade.

My happiest memory ever was when I got the email saying I was approved for DACA. I just felt a sense of relief, like somebody untied my hands. I could finally move. I could finally offer my kids a better future, a better life. It was like a key to a door."

Nereyda, immigrated at 8 years old from Mexico.

Hundreds of billions in economic losses over the next several decades

DACA recipients and their families contribute tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year. Stripping DACA recipients of their work authorization would have disastrous impacts on the U.S. economy, and, given the young age of the DACA workforce, would continue to harm the economy for decades to come.

Without legal work authorization through DACA, many undocumented young adults will likely find work in the informal economy, but far below their education and training, reducing their economic contributions. If DACA recipients were to stop working altogether, or if they and their families were ultimately forced to leave the U.S., the losses would be magnified substantially.

I started my first job thanks to my DACA. The uncertainty around [DACA] weighs on me and has me questioning my future…[My boss] told me, ‘Hey, look, I see when you applied using that DACA card. We are going to have to let you go when that expires.’ That stresses me out. I don’t really want to lose my job, have to quit school, and not be able to help my parents pay the bills. That’s where I am right now."

Justin, immigrated as an infant with Bangladeshi parents.

Ending DACA could shrink the U.S. economy by an estimated:

  • $38 billion in income from underemployed DACA recipients over their lifetimes (per-affected person loss of $70,000 in lifetime income);
  • $234 billion if DACA recipients are no longer working over their lifetimes (per-affected person loss of $430,000 in lifetime income);
  • $295 billion if DACA recipients and their spouses are no longer working over their lifetimes (per-affected person loss of $543,000 over their lifetimes);
  • $648 billion if all DACA-eligible individuals and their spouses were no longer working over their lifetimes (per-affected person loss of $561,000 over their lifetimes).

The economic losses would be felt most significantly in California ($68 billion alone for nonworking DACA recipients), Texas ($37 billion), Illinois ($11 billion), and Arizona ($11 billion).

When you look at the people who do have DACA…It’s like, "Come on man, you have this whole group of people that you can hone and use in your workforce and you’re holding us idle." That’s what it feels like at times. We’re just idle. We’re waiting for someone to give us a green light. I feel like that’s just the energy that’s present right now. Everybody’s holding their breath for the next step."

Sam, immigrated as an infant from Mexico.

Prohibiting DACA recipients from working would have an especially harmful impact on the economic output of critical industries during the next three decades, including estimated losses of:
-$32 billion

in healthcare

-$28 billion

in manufacturing

-$28 billion

in retail and wholesale trade

-$26 billion

in construction

-$25 billion

in business services

-$21 billion

in leisure and hospitality services

-$13 billion

in finance and real estate services

-$12 billion

in transportation and utilities

-$11 billion

in education

All of us [DACA recipients] have jobs, and the only reason that we have a job is because we have DACA. And we have decent jobs. We have put our school skills, our college skills, into our jobs."

Angela, immigrated at 7 years old from Mexico.

Billions in fiscal losses to state and local governments

Some opponents of DACA have repeated the falsehood that DACA recipients, as undocumented immigrants, are a net fiscal cost to state and local governments. This is simply not true.

In fact, with work authorization, DACA recipients are a net fiscal gain to state and local governments each year, paying more in property, income, local, and sales taxes than costs incurred on their behalf by the states and localities.

If DACA ends, some of the highest, annual losses in state and local government revenue, beyond expenses incurred for DACA recipients, would happen in California, Texas, Illinois, and New York, as well as other states with a high number of DACA recipients:

-$1.6 billion


-$782 million


-$329 million


-$239 million

New York

-$210 million

North Carolina

-$197 million


-$193 million


-$160 million


With DACA, I was able to obtain a New York State driver’s license, get my own car, open a bank account and apply for health insurance…You know, it just helped me a lot. I don’t fear being deported, I feel safe having DACA."

Juan, immigrated at 2 years old from Mexico.

No state in our analysis experiences a net fiscal loss with work authorizations for DACA recipients, meaning that work authorization for DACA recipients is clearly a benefit for all localities in which they work. Stripping DACA recipients of their ability to work, pay taxes, and participate in local economies would eliminate their tremendous contributions, at a minimum of $5 billion annually, and as much as $150 billion over the next three decades.

Before DACA, I didn’t want to think about my future. What future? Once I got it, I could open a bank account. I could work legally. I decided to switch my major to serving people and working with people with mental illness. Having opportunities kind of pushed me to think bigger and go further."

Jun-seo, immigrated at 13 years old from South Korea.

Hundreds of thousands of workers forced out of an already shorthanded labor force

If DACA ended, and work authorizations were not renewed, this would mean 440,000 workers could be forced out of the U.S. workforce over a period of two years or face underemployment by shifting to different industries or lower-paying jobs. Beyond just the sheer number of lost workers, the economy would also lose cultural knowledge and bilingualism in their workplaces that cannot be as readily replaced.

Every occupational field would be affected, but health, education, and STEM occupations would be hit most acutely; these occupational fields are already experiencing historic labor shortages, and would have significant difficulty in finding new workers to replace DACA recipients.

With the equivalent of six to nine months of wages in recruitment and retraining costs to fill all DACA recipient positions, if replacements could even be found in these labor-short industries, businesses could incur more than $8 billion in additional costs, with a similar past loss on investment in recruiting and training those DACA recipients in the first place.

I think about it and I’m just like ‘What if I lose [DACA]? What am I going to do here?’ My brother keeps on saying ‘Oh, let’s go to Canada. I’m a computer engineer, we can try to find a job there.’ And I was like ‘But that’s like giving up my entire life away, because I grew up American, basically.’ And to move to another country, that’s so hard for me to think of living in another country that’s not the U.S."

Patricia, immigrated at 3 years old from Ecuador.

Up to 37,000 healthcare personnel across the country could be lost, resulting in the loss of more than a billion patient appointments, such as doctor visits, with these healthcare providers in the decades ahead. Health professional losses would particularly be felt in major cities in California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois:

-12,000 jobs

in California

-4,000 jobs in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area

-5,000 jobs

in Texas

-1,000 jobs in the Houston area
-800 jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area

-1,000 jobs

in New York

-500 jobs in the New York City area

-2,000 jobs

in Florida

-500 jobs in the Miami area

-1,000 jobs

in Illinois

-500 jobs in the Chicago area

Up to 17,000 STEM professionals across the country could be lost, including thousands each in California, Texas, Arizona, and New York.

-7,000 jobs

in California

-3,000 jobs in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area
-2,000 jobs in the San Jose area
-1,000 jobs in the San Francisco-Oakland area
-500 jobs in the San Diego area

-2,000 jobs

in Texas

-500 jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area

-1,000 jobs

in Arizona

-500 jobs in the Phoenix area

-1,000 jobs

in New York

-500 jobs in the New York City area

Up to 17,000 educators across the country could be lost, impacting more than 250,000 students in classes across the country, and up to 7 million students in the decades ahead. Educator losses would particularly be felt in major school districts in California, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Florida.

-5,000 jobs

in California

-200 jobs in the Los Angeles Unified School District

-2,000 jobs

in Texas

-200 jobs in the Houston Independent School District

-1,200 jobs

in Illinois

-900 jobs in Chicago Public Schools

-600 jobs

in New York

-400 jobs in New York City public schools

400 jobs

in Florida

-200 jobs in Miami-Dade public schools
Getting DACA, the first time and even now normalized my life. I don’t have to worry about the fear of being deported. It helps me to focus more on what I want to do with my life. I currently work, so I go to school full time and then I work on weekends, so it allows me to support myself more."

Jodi, immigrated at 6 years old from Jamaica.

Billions in lost business income, impacting thousands of U.S. workers employed by DACA recipients

DACA recipients, like immigrants on the whole, are disproportionately active entrepreneurs, starting small businesses across all kinds of industries.

In high school, when I was applying for colleges, I was sending my applications and thinking, ‘What can I do? Can I work any job that I studied?’ But then that’s when DACA came out. All of my friends were so happy for me. They were like, ‘Oh you’re finally going to be able to do what you like.’"

Yolanda, immigrated at 9 years old from Mexico.

35,000 DACA recipients are self-employed, including:

  • 8,000 in construction;
  • 5,000 in business services;
  • 4,000 in services.

Forcing DACA recipients to close their businesses in light of their potential deportation could mean a minimum of $30 billion in lost business income in the decades ahead, as well as the loss of up to 168,000 U.S. jobs provided by DACA-owned businesses, including:

-42,000 U.S. jobs

in business services

27,000 U.S. jobs

in construction

21,000 U.S. jobs

in transportation and utilities

20,000 U.S. jobs

in manufacturing

15,000 U.S. jobs

in wholesale and retail sales

13,000 U.S. jobs

in leisure and hospitality services

Job losses from DACA recipients losing their businesses would be felt nationwide, but particularly in states such as:

  • -45,000 U.S. jobs in California;
  • -34,000 U.S. jobs in Texas;
  • -13,000 U.S. jobs in Arizona.
My mom told me about DACA and said, ‘we are going to do it right now for you. You’re going to get a work permit, a Social Security number, and you’re going to go to school, because you’re going to be something great in the future.’ That changed everything."

Sonia, immigrated as an infant from Mexico.