The economics of dreamers

The Congressional Budget Office released on December 15 an analysis of the fiscal impact on the federal government if the DREAMERs were to be given full permanent legal status. An anti-immigration group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), immediately said that the report justifies denying the dreamers the dreamers legal resident rights.

The CBO report is a woefully incomplete profile of the economic and federal fiscal impact of dreamers. Here is why: it focuses on incremental federal outlays for the healthcare of these now legal workers without taking into account their contribution to economic production and to federal income tax payments.

It’s sort of like saying that hedge fund managers living in Greenwich CT. are a net cost to the city because they demand a higher public school budget.

The report, after analyzing a bill submitted in Congress in 2018 to give permanent legal status to dreamers, estimates that, with some expansion of the dreamer population by this bill, two million persons are covered. The analysis does not address the workforce contribution of these persons, and thus leaves out their financial contribution in federal, state and local taxes.

A rough estimate of their income tax payments is as follows. It is reasonable to assume that at least 75% of these two million persons, when they are of working age, will be in the workforce. The median annual wage in the U.S. is about $37,000. Let’s assume that the average annual income of these 1.5 million workers is $28,000. Federal taxes on an individual earning that amount is about $3,400. This totals to $5.1 billion annually in federal income taxes.

The CBO report pretty much assumes that these persons prior to legalization do not receive Medicaid benefits or Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) premium subsidies. It estimates these costs after legalization to average, over the first ten years after legalization, at about $1.05 billion a year. The CBO lists other federal expenses but they are minor compared to these healthcare benefits.

This roughly one billion a year incremental cost is (1) less than one fifth of their annual federal income tax payments, and (2) consistent what legal American workers are receiving right now in health subsidies. These costs are the result of making 1.5 million workers legal, allowing them to progress in their work, during their early working years, towards higher wages.

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