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Report: Kentucky Minority Workers Earn Less Than White Peers At Most Education Levels


Kentucky’s workforce diversity is growing, but there are still significant incomes disparities between racial and ethnic groups, according to a new report by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE). 

Black, Asian, and Hispanic workers in the state earn less than white workers over a lifetime, even with an advance college degree. The Council’s president said that in some cases, minority workers need to work two lifetimes to match the income of a white peer. 

“These inequities betray our values as a state and diminish the hard work of too many Kentuckians,” said CPE President Aaron Thompson in a press release. “If we want to encourage college-going and build a workforce for the future, we need to make sure all workers receive the financial rewards that befit their education.”

The report shows that Black Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree earn only 55% of the amount made by white Kentuckians with the same credential. Asians earn 62%, and Hispanics earn 92%.

That number grows for Black and Asian Kentuckians with a master’s degree, with Black workers making 57% and Asians making 72%. At the master’s level, Hispanic workers completely close the income gap.

Credit CPE

“This is challenging news,” said David Mahan, associate vice president of data and advanced analytics for CPE. “But we also think that we are moving in the right direction. Year by year, we’re going to get better and better.” 

“These gaps are going to close but they’re not going to close without a lot of really strong effort from teachers, from advisors, from business leaders, that continue to encourage folks to go into these high pay, high demand fields,” Mahan said.

The report also found that college degrees are still financially beneficial for all racial and ethnic groups.

Jie “Grace” Dai is CPE’s senior associate for data and advanced analytics and a lead author of the report. She said that the income gap is getting smaller and will continue to shrink as more minority groups receive college degrees.

Dai said universities should offer more support and resources for minority groups interested in getting advanced degrees, such as M.B.As. 

“Employers and campuses, they can narrow the gap by providing leadership training opportunities and professional development for females, for people from minority and underrepresented groups,” she said. 

The report is based on data from the 2016-2018 American Community Survey to estimate lifetime earnings for full-time workers. 

Former student intern Alana Watson rejoined WKU Public Radio in August 2020 as the Ohio Valley ReSource economics reporter. She transitioned to the station's All Things Considered Host in July of 2020 and became the student reporting and producing specialist in 2023. Watson has a B.A. in Broadcasting Journalism for Western Kentucky University and a M.A in Communications from Austin Peay State University. She is a Nashville native and has interned at WPLN-FM in Nashville. Watson was also a 2nd Century Fellow for Wisconsin Public Radio before rejoining WKU Public Radio. She has received numerous awards for her reporting.
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