Immigrants and the economy in:


Today, Kentucky is home to roughly 160,000 immigrants. New Americans in Kentucky serve as everything from livestock workers to software developers, making them critical contributors to Kentucky’s economic success overall. They also contribute in STEM fields: Despite making up only 3.6 percent of Kentucky’s population, immigrants represented 12.5 percent of all STEM workers in the state in 2014.

  • Immigrant Residents

  • Immigrant Share of Population

  • Immigrant Taxes Paid (2014)

  • Immigrant Spending Power (2014)

  • Immigrant Entrepreneurs

  • Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms



In the United States, immigrants are more likely to be working-age than their U.S.-born counterparts. This allows them to contribute to the U.S. economy and to entitlement programs as they work and pay taxes. This is equally true in Kentucky, where immigrants are far more likely to be of working age than the U.S.-born population.

Age Group Foreign-Born Population Share Native-Born Population Share
0-24 24.4% 33.1%
25-64 67.3% 51.9%
65+ 8.3% 15.1%


In 2010, roughly one in 10 American workers with jobs at private firms were employed at immigrant-founded companies. Such businesses also generated more than $775 billion in annual business revenue that year. In Kentucky, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching far above their weight class as entrepreneurs. Foreign-born workers currently make up 5.0 percent of all entrepreneurs in the state, despite accounting for 3.6 percent of Kentucky’s population.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 35,360
Immigrant entrepreneurs 7,711
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $315.0M
Fortune 500 companies in Kentucky founded by immigrants or their children 20.0%

Taxes & Spending Power

Nationally, immigrants earned $1.3 trillion in 2014 and contributed more than $104 billion in state and local taxes, as well as almost $224 billion in federal taxes. This left them with nearly $927 billion in spending power. Immigrants in Kentucky play an important role contributing to the state’s economy both as consumers and taxpayers.

Immigrant Household Income $3.8B
Taxes Paid $1.1B
State & Local Taxes $343.1M
Federal Taxes $719.3M
Total Spending Power $2.8B


Nationally, immigrants are 17.2 percent more likely to hold an advanced degree than the native-born. They are also more likely to have less than a high school education. Uniquely, this allows them to fill critical shortages at both ends of the skill spectrum, from high-tech fields to agriculture, hospitality, and service industries. This holds true in Kentucky, where immigrants play a particularly large role as agricultural workers, software developers, and computer programmers.

Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 28.1% 15.0%
High School & Some College 40.7% 62.6%
Bachelor's Degree 15.0% 13.2%
Graduate Degree 16.2% 9.2%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Animal production 22.0%
Crop production  20.7%
Traveler accommodation  15.7%
Computer systems design and related services  15.3%
Private households  12.7%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Miscellaneous agricultural workers, including animal breeders 34.7%
Software developers, applications and systems software 26.8%
Computer programmers 19.7%
Computer occupations, all other 19.3%
Physicians and Surgeons 16.1%

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Between 2014 and 2024, science, technology, engineering, and math—or “STEM”—fields are projected to play a key role in U.S. economic growth, adding almost 800,000 new jobs and growing 37.0 percent faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Immigrants are already playing a huge part ensuring that Kentucky remains a leading innovator in industries like aviation and aerospace.

STEM workers who are immigrants 12.5%
STEM Master’s students who are foreign nationals 14.3%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 38.3%


In the coming years, the American healthcare industry is projected to see rapid growth—adding more new positions from 2014 to 2024 than any other industry in our economy. In Kentucky, a state where more than one out of every 7 people is currently elderly, finding enough healthcare workers remains a challenge—and one that will likely worsen in the future.

Open healthcare jobs to unemployed healthcare workers 6:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 21.6%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 29.2%
Nurses who are foreign-born 1.7%
Health aides who are foreign-born 2.4%


Immigrant families have long played an important role helping to build housing wealth in the United States. In recent decades, the more than 40 million immigrants collectively in the country increased U.S. housing wealth by $3.7 trillion. Much of this was possible because immigrants moved into neighborhoods once in decline, helping to revitalize communities and make them more attractive to U.S.-born residents. In Kentucky, immigrants are actively strengthening the state’s housing market.

Immigrant homeowners 26,433
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 3.8%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $5.2B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $27.6M

International Students

International students in the United States contributed more than $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2014-2015 school year and supported more than 370,000 jobs through their tuition payments and day-to-day spending. Research has found that increases in the number of international students at American universities boost innovation and patent creation. International students represent a small portion of all students in Kentucky, but they make a big impact.

Students at Kentucky colleges and universities who are international 2.9%
Economic contribution of international students $184.2M
Jobs supported by international students 1,624

Voting Power

In 2014, Kentucky was home to more than 50,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 33,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by roughly 408,000 votes in 2012. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries.

Immigrants eligible to vote 50,369
Immigrants registered to vote 32,855
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 63,535
2012 presidential election margin of victory 407,820

Undocumented Immigrants

The United States is currently home to an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom have lived in the country for more than five years. The presence of so many undocumented immigrants for such a long time presents many legal and political challenges. But while politicians continue to debate what to do about illegal immigration without any resolution, millions of undocumented immigrants are actively working across the country, and collectively, these immigrants have a large impact on the U.S. economy. This is true in Kentucky, where undocumented immigrants contribute tens of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

Undocumented immigrants 52,975
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 76.5%
Undocumented entrepreneurs 2,156
Undocumented Household Income $748.9M
Taxes Paid $93.4M
State & Local Taxes $36.6M
Federal Taxes $56.8M
Total Spending Power $655.6M

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