Immigrant entrepreneurs’ hard path to a living

The Washington Post
March 9, 2013

John and Caroline Schneider operated a German lager beer saloon in the basement of New York’s 97 Orchard St. in the 1870s. John dealt with patrons in the front, while Caroline prepared customer meals in a tiny back apartment, where the couple also slept, ate and lived. Meanwhile, upstairs in the tenement, Natalie Gumpertz , a single mother, depended on a living room sewing machine to support her four children as a dressmaker. Other immigrant entrepreneurs, such as Harris Levine, followed her, running full-scale garment sweatshops in the building’s cramped tenement homes.

Small business in America is not always glamorous and not always a path to fortune. But for generations, small business has been a path out of poverty for hardworking, risk-taking Americans and, along the way, one of the principal drivers of new job growth in America. And for generations, immigrants have played an outsize role as this country’s entrepreneurs.

Immigrants such as those from 97 Orchard St. have been driving much of that job creation. In 2011, 28 percent of all new businesses started in the United States had immigrant founders, even though immigrants make up around 13 percent of the population, according to a recent report by the bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy. Immigrants are more than twice as likely as the native-born to start businesses, and immigrant-owned businesses now employ one out of every 10 workers at privately owned companies in the United States. Many of these workers are employed at Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Intel, Qualcomm and eBay, but the vast majority are employed at small businesses that bear far more resemblance to 97 Orchard St. than to Silicon Valley.

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