Immigrants in Kentucky

October 13, 2017

Kentucky has a small but growing immigrant community. While nearly 4 percent of the state’s population was born in another country, foreign-born residents make up a vital, educated share of the labor force. Over a third of immigrants in Kentucky possess a college or higher degree, and 73 percent report speaking English well. The state benefits from the various ways immigrants participate in the economy—from working in arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media professions to accounting for nearly 30 percent of Kentucky’s fishing, farming, and forestry employees. As workers, business owners, taxpayers, and neighbors, immigrants are an integral part of Kentucky’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

Nearly 4 percent of Kentucky residents are immigrants, while nearly 3 percent are native-born U.S. citizens who have at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2015, 157,336 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 3.6 percent of the state’s population.
  • Kentucky was home to 68,802 women, 70,300 men, and 18,234 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (19.2 percent of immigrants), India (6.9 percent), Cuba (5.1 percent), China (4.5 percent), and Guatemala (3.7 percent).
  • In 2016, 115,969 people in Kentucky (2.7 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

More than a third of immigrants in Kentucky are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 58,196 immigrants (37 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, and 36,841 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015.
  • More than three-quarters of immigrants (78.2 percent) reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in Kentucky are concentrated at both ends of the educational spectrum.

  • More than a third of all adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2015, while one-quarter had less than a high school diploma. 

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

34.3

22.8

Some college

17.4

28.8

High school diploma only

23.2

34.0

Less than a high-school diploma

25.2

14.4

Over 24,000 U.S. citizens in Kentucky live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 50,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 30 percent of the immigrant population and 1.1 percent of the total state population in 2014.
  • 56,157 people in Kentucky, including 22,262 born in the United States, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
  • During the same period, 2 percent of children in the state were U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member (19,713 children in total).

Nearly 3,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in Kentucky.

  • As of 2016, 59 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in Kentucky, or 3,448 people, had applied for DACA.
  • An additional 2,000 residents of the state satisfied all but the educational requirements for DACA, and up to 2,000 others would be additionally eligible as they grew older.

Immigrants are vital members of Kentucky’s labor force across industries.

  • 99,838 immigrant workers comprised 4.8 percent of the labor force in 2015.
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Manufacturing

19,023

Accommodation and Food Services

13,719

Health Care and Social Assistance

13,236

Retail Trade

10,816

Educational Services

10,368

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • The largest shares of immigrant workers were in the following industries:

Industry

Immigrant Share (%)
(of all industry workers)

Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting

18.5

Accommodation and Food Services

6.7

Manufacturing

5.5

Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services

5.4

Construction

4.9

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

Immigrants are a significant part of the Kentucky workforce in a range of occupations.

  • In 2015, immigrant workers were most numerous in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Number of Immigrant Workers

Production

10,815

Food Preparation and Serving Related

10,029

Sales and Related

9,511

Office and Administrative Support

9,416

Management

8,790

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • The largest shares of immigrant workers were in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Immigrant Share (%)
(of all workers in occupation)

Farming, Fishing, and Forestry

29.3

Architecture and Engineering

7.7

Life, Physical, and Social Sciences

7.0

Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media

6.8

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

6.7

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 1.7 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014.

Immigrants in Kentucky contribute a billion dollars in taxes every year.

  • Immigrant-led households in the state paid $719.3 million in federal taxes and $343.1 million in state and local taxes in 2014.
  • Undocumented immigrants in Kentucky paid an estimated $36.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014. Their contribution would rise to $52.7 million if they could receive legal status.
  • DACA recipients in Kentucky paid an estimated $9.1 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

As consumers, immigrants add billions of dollars to Kentucky’s economy.

  • Kentucky residents in immigrant-led households had $2.8 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2014.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in Kentucky generate hundreds of millions of dollars in business revenue.

  • 8,690 immigrant business owners accounted for 4.6 percent of all self-employed Kentucky residents in 2015 and generated $283.5 million in business income.

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