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The American Dream: A Reality Check

Friday, August 2, 2013

The world’s best and brightest… struggling to reach our shores… reaching for a better life… and there is no better way to fulfill that American dream than through entrepreneurship. 

But for immigrants, which came first – the American dream or entrepreneurship?  It has long been assumed that the fiery spirit of capitalism infused those who came to the United States, bringing their talent and enterprise to create one Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story after another.  However, as a recent study highlighted in Forbes argues, the high rate of entrepreneurship amongst immigrants has less to do with the inspiring American dream than mistreatment immigrants face at the hands of their employers.

The authors of the study at Israel’s Ono Academic College sifted through data on LinkedIn (where most entrepreneurs maintain a presence) and research from the United Nations to arrive at their conclusion.  The researchers confirmed that entrepreneurship is positively correlated with a high influx of immigrants into the U.S., but they noted that many immigrant entrepreneurs were not entrepreneurial at home.  The reason for their turn to entrepreneurship once they arrived here?  Discriminatory hiring practices.  The researchers argue such discrimination, along with other obstacles, are the primary drivers of immigrants to pursue businesses on their own.

As Washington works to forge compromises on the immigration reform bill, the plight of new immigrants trying to enter the workforce reminds of the many difficulties they face.  Increased entrepreneurship may appear to be the silver lining of exclusionary hiring practices and mistreatment at the workplace, but it no doubt comes at a heavy cost.  While the Forbes piece points out that 21% of high-net-worth Americans became rich through entrepreneurship, the road to such wealth is paved with sweat and tears, especially for foreign nationals.  It is certainly not a road filled with guarantees or universal support from others.

The impact of discrimination on immigrant entrepreneurship is also a clarion call that America needs to work harder to end such intolerance and provide better education to both newcomers and their children.  Education is a bridge to opportunity, for both native-born and foreign-born citizen alike.  However, more importantly for new immigrants, it is also a path from discrimination to assimilation.      

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