Sept. 27, 2005--Immigrants and Latinos have swollen the growing ranks of America's self-employed in recent years, increasing the diversity of the country's entrepreneurial class.

The Kauffman Foundation released its Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, which found that, on average, 550,000 new businesses were started each month from 1996 to 2004. This rate held constant despite economic fluctuations like the Internet boom and corporate scandals as well as international events like terrorism and the wars Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of the gains in self-employment resulted from increasing numbers of Latino and immigrant entrepreneurs.

The Kauffman Index draws samples from information gathered by the Bureau of the Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics. The researchers found that the number of private, Latino-owned business opening each month increased from .38% in 1996 to .48% in 2004, compared to only .39% for white-owned businesses last year. According to a separate report from the Small Business Administration, the number of Latino-owned businesses has increased fourfold since 1979, and hit 1.03 million in 2003, roughly 7% of the total U.S. workforce.

"More Latinos are getting appointed to powerful positions and giving communities a shot in the arm," said Rey Hollingsworth Falu, a Hispanic real estate developer in East Harlem. "The children of immigrants from places like Mexico and Puerto Rico are getting an education and taking advantage of the opportunities they have."

Falu's parents brought him to New York from Puerto Rico when he was four years old. He grew up in East Harlem and eventually earned a master's degree in business. Thirteen years ago, Falu and his mother started a computer training business, UBS Workforce Development, to help locals in their neighborhood become computer literate.

"Being an entrepreneur gives you the ability to decide your own future, and also to decide where resources in your community are going to go," said Falu, 35. UBS Workforce, for example, provided childcare for students. This service made training in software development, web design, and Microsoft applications accessible to women who could not afford nannies or other childcare.

African-American entrepreneurship remains low, but is increasing. The average rate of business openings for African-Americans rose from only .25% in 1996 to .35% in 2004. The Small Business Administration reported that 710,000 black-owned businesses were operating in 2003, representing 5.2% of the total U.S. workforce.

Immigrants proved the most entrepreneurial in 2004, according to the Kauffman report. The rate of immigrant-owned business openings was .46% versus only .35% for native-born citizens.