The Millionaire Next Door

Millionaires in the Making: Russian Immigrants

Last night my wife and I dined at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, taking full advantage of the “early bird” special! We lucked out and were served by David, an outstanding waiter.  As always I inquired about his progress as an undergraduate honors student in math.  He responded that his brilliant math professors were constantly challenging him yet he is able to keep his straight A average.  He then began giving us the details about the extraordinary intellect of these professors. According to David, the top two are both recent immigrants from Russia.  Now that I think about it I constantly find high concentrations of wealthy Russian Americans of various generations in my national surveys.  And I have bumped into very productive people who have recently immigrated from Russia:  the manager of the medical lab our doctor uses, the assistant manager of a local jewelry store, a multimillionaire scrap metal dealer….

I am not surprised.  While conducting the research for my forthcoming book, Stop Acting Rich, I examined the wealth characteristics of Americans based on their reported country of origin.  Nationwide those heads of households who claim Russian ancestry make up less than 1% of the household population but nearly 6% of the millionaire households with investments of $1 million or more.  They also rank 1st in terms of the proportion of households who have annual realized incomes of $200,000 or more.  What if the Russian government, led by either tsars, psychopaths like Stalin, or the former KGB super star Putin, had provided the same opportunities and freedoms to its people that we have enjoyed?  Most likely, the wealth and extraordinary productivity of the current Russian American population would be part of the Russian economy and not ours. Instead, the Russian economy continues to flounder. Just look at one of the typical headlines that illustrate the plight of the Russian economy: “Russian Economy Hitting ‘Dead End’ Medvedev” (AFP, August 10, 2009). In America, the average worker earns more than 3 times what his Russian counterpart earns.  Plus our GDP is 8 times that of Russia’s. 

Even today with the downtown in our economy, there is no place on earth like America in terms of offering economic opportunities and freedoms.  People are most productive when they realize there is an opportunity to succeed.  In order for our economy to grow, we need to import the most productive of human resources.  Certainly among the propsective immigrants who have a high probability of contributing to our economy are those ambitious Russians (scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs,educators, etc.) who want to live and prosper in the United States.

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