As the Senate prepares to tackle immigration reform next week, there's new evidence backing the argument that immigrants don't just come to the United States to take jobs -- in many cases, they create them.
According to a new report released by the Census Bureau, Hispanic-owned businesses now comprise one of the fastest-growing segments the U.S. economy. Between 1997 and 2002, the number of businesses owned by Hispanics grew by 31 percent -- three times the national average for all businesses -- hitting 1.6 million in 2002 and generating some $222 billion in revenue.
"[These figures] really reveal the growing economic influence of the Hispanic community," said Michael Barrera, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Hispanic immigrants are not just job takers. They're job creators."
The majority of these businesses are small, self-employed operations -- only 13 percent have employees besides the owner. The greatest percentage, roughly three in 10, are in construction or other service sectors, such as repair and maintenance. There are also sizable numbers of Hispanic-owned firms in the fields of health care, retail trade (which includes mom-and-pop stores) and transportation, according to Census figures.
And many of these businesses are cropping up in unexpected places. While most are still in California, Texas, Florida and New York, the states where Hispanic-owned firms are growing at the fastest rate, after New York, are Rhode Island and Georgia, followed by Nevada and South Carolina.
"Hispanics have been very dominant in their willingness to vote with their feet -- to move to other parts of the country," said Ronald Langston, director of the Minority Business Development Agency. "They've shown this great capacity to travel and move."
The biggest hurdle for minority entrepreneurs, according to Langston, is access to capital. He also cites the importance of education, and financial and technological literacy.
Since Hispanics make up 14 percent of the overall U.S. population, they're also a growing part of the consumer market, which has helped fuel some of these new businesses.
Salsa now outsells ketchup, Barrera notes, and tortillas outsell Wonder Bread. And that buying clout will only continue to grow as the population expands: Hispanics are expected to spend $1 trillion in the United States by 2010.
Right now, 2.5 Hispanics are born every minute in this country. By 2050, the Census Bureau projects that one out of every four workers in this country will be Hispanic.