A greater percentage of foreign-born Kentucky residents hold a college degree than Kentuckians born in the U.S.—but immigrants to Kentucky are also likelier to have not finished high school, according to a study by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.
The study, released last week and based on census data, said about 12 percent of U.S.-born Kentucky residents have a bachelor's degree and eight percent have advanced degrees. The study said 15 percent of foreign-born residents have a bachelors degree and 15 percent have an advanced degree.
Erin Howard, the director of Latino Outreach for Bluegrass Community and Technical College, said she would like to see the study eliminate what she called the “quintessential stereotype” of immigrants as poor and illiterate.
“While there are some that fall into that category, it certainly isn’t everyone,” she said.
Due largely to the higher education level of immigrants, the median family income of foreign born Kentucky residents is more than $2,000 higher than that of Kentuckians born within the United States, according to the study.
The percentage of immigrants who earn more than $80,000, $100,000 or $200,000 is also greater than Kentucky residents born in the U.S., the study said.
“The trend that we are seeing is that we do have quite a few high skilled immigrants that make Kentucky their home, they are placed here through refugee ministries or they know family living here already,” Howard said.
Though immigrant Kentuckians are likelier to have a college degree, they're also likelier than U.S.-born Kentuckians to have not completed high school, the study said.
Howard said that these disparities can exist within a family.
The head of the household may have an advanced degree and be highly skilled, but another member of the family may be illiterate with not even as much as a high school diploma, she said. The disparity depends on many factors, including county of origin and the reason for immigrating to the U.S.
And the economic disparities among education levels are stark. Though the median family income for immigrants is greater than domestic born Kentuckians, for those with a high school diploma or less, those born within the United States make considerably more than foreign born workers in Kentucky.
(If you're having trouble seeing the graphic, go here.)
A majority of immigrants in Kentucky work in "white-collar" jobs, according to the study. Only 8.5 percent of foreign born workers are employed in the farming industry, yet they they comprised 13.6 percent of workers in farming and related occupations between 2007 and 2011.