Immigrants and the economy in:


Today, Kentucky is home to more than 150,000 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 7.6 percent of all STEM workers in the state in 2014.

  • Immigrant Residents

  • Immigrant Share of Population

  • Immigrant Taxes Paid

  • Immigrant Spending Power

  • 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
0-15 8.5% 20.5%
16-64 83.2% 63.8%
65+ 8.3% 15.7%


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, with more than 10,000 immigrants owning their own business.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 35,360
Immigrant entrepreneurs 10,603
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $238.7M

Taxes & Spending Power

Nationally, immigrants earned $1.4 trillion in 2016 and contributed more than $117 billion in state and local taxes, as well as almost $262 billion in federal taxes. This left them with more than $1.0 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 $3.7B
Taxes Paid $969.6M
State & Local Taxes $333.3M
Federal Taxes $636.3M
Total Spending Power $2.7B


Nationally, immigrants are 9.2 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.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 25.4% 14.1%
High School & Some College 43.5% 62.9%
Bachelor's Degree 16.5% 13.9%
Graduate Degree 14.6% 9.2%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Crop production 16.9%
Traveler accommodation 13.5%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 12.1%
Computer systems design and related services 11.0%
Warehousing and storage 9.0%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Postsecondary teachers 25.0%
Physicians and surgeons 18.0%
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 11.5%
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers 10.2%
Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists 7.7%

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 7.6%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 20.4%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 40.2%


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 10:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 21.6%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 29.2%
Nurses who are foreign-born 3.0%
Health aides who are foreign-born 3.3%


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 25,976
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 3.5%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $5.6B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $241.7M

International Students

International students in the United States contributed more than $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2016-2017 school year and supported more than 450,000 jobs through their tuition payments and day-to-day spending. Research has also 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 students 2.8%
Economic contribution of international students $192.1M
Jobs supported by international students 1,689

Voting Power

In 2016, Kentucky was home to more than 56,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 35,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican Donald Trump won by roughly 574,000 votes in 2016. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries.

Immigrants eligible to vote 56,458
Immigrants registered to vote 35,080
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 63,410
2016 presidential election margin of victory 574,117

Undocumented Immigrants

The United States is currently home to an estimated 11.0 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 38,669
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 88.6%
Undocumented Household Income $591.0M
Taxes Paid $67.4M
State & Local Taxes $29.4M
Federal Taxes $38.1M
Total Spending Power $523.6M

The Economic Impact of Refugees

Despite leaving extreme and dangerous situations in their home countries, refugees are often able to rebound and prosper as they become more integrated into American society. Nationwide, we find that refugees hold billions of dollars in spending power and pay more than $20 billion in tax contributions to federal, state, and local governments each year. At the state level, they contribute millions of added dollars to local economies, making them an important driver of growth and prosperity for communities around the country.

Key Stats
Number of Likely Refugees 14,814
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 0.6%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.3%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $311.0M
Taxes Paid $77.4M
State & Local Taxes $29.0M
Federal Taxes $48.4M
Refugee Spending Power $233.7M

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…