IZA DP No. 4560: Low-Skilled Immigrant Entrepreneurship
published in: Review of Economics of the Household, 2011, 9 (1), 25-44
More than half of the foreign born workforce in the U.S. have no schooling beyond high school and about 20 percent of the low-skilled workforce are immigrants. More than 10 percent of these low-skilled immigrants are self-employed. Utilizing longitudinal data from the 1996, 2001 and 2004 Survey of Income and Program Participation panels, this paper analyzes the returns to self-employment among low-skilled immigrants. We compare annual earnings and earnings growth of immigrant entrepreneurs to immigrants in wage/salary employment as well as native born business owners. We find that the returns to low-skilled self-employment among immigrants is higher than it is among natives but also that wage/salary employment is a more financially rewarding option for most low-skilled immigrants. An exception is immigrant men, who are found to have higher earnings growth than immigrants in wage/salary employment and are predicted to reach earnings parity after approximately 10 years in business. We also find that most of the 20 percent male native-immigrant earnings gap among low-skilled business owners can be explained primarily by differences in the ethnic composition. Low-skilled female foreign born entrepreneurs are found to have earnings roughly equal to those of self-employed native born women.