THE AMERICAN DREAM HAS BEEN taking its lumps lately. Researchers tell us that the gap between rich and poor, by some measures, is three times wider than it was just 30 years ago. Worse, only half of today’s Americans in their 30s earn more than their parents did at the same age, compared with more than 90 percent of that group a generation or two ago. Pessimism reigns: We now know that if you call the United States a “hellhole,” so many voters will agree that you can become president. You could let that depress you. But I suggest you first read this issue of Inc. Consider our cover subject, Armir Harris, an Albanian refugee who taught himself English and programming, and whose company, Shofur, has grown almost 10,500 percent in three years. Or Chris Rickerson, a high school dropout with drug problems who recovered to found Elite Staffing Solutions of Wichita, Kansas, which employs 2,400 people and has grown more than 2,500 percent. Both are practically poster kids for the American Dream.
For sheer American ingenuity, consider Andrew Paradise, CEO and co-founder of this year’s No. 1 Inc. 500 company, Skillz, which is helping with the development of nothing less than a new industry, e-sports. In the process, Paradise has increased revenue by more than 50,000 percent. Collectively, he and his fellow Inc. 500 innovators have created more than 49,000 jobs since 2013 and added $9.4 billion to last year’s GDP.
It makes you wish that they were making economic policy, doesn’t it? That’s our feeling, anyway, so we asked our 500 CEOs what they would like to see from lawmakers. The answers were fascinating.
We learned that Inc. 500 founders, while significantly more likely to be Republican than Democrat, are hard to pin to any one dogma. Yes, they overwhelmingly support lower tax rates on business. And why not? Ours are among the highest in the world. On the other hand, they want Washington to focus more on allowing talented immigrants into the country than on banning the undocumented, by a three-to-one margin. And they are twice as likely to want to reform the health care law than to repeal it. As much as anything else, they want Washington to stop bickering and to create a stable environment in which growing businesses can plan ahead.
Maybe that’s just how you think if you see the American economy as a place of opportunity rather than as a zero-sum game. The Inc. 500 told us they think determination, risk taking, and vision were the keys to their success, and I believe them. Reading their stories, it’s hard to accept all that depressing research and campaign rhetoric as destiny. The Inc. 500 are the most persuasive evidence I know that the American Dream is still alive. See if you agree.