Though a slave state, Kentucky never depended on a plantation economy. In 1830, almost 25% of the population was black. After the Civil War, a lack of jobs and migration to the industrial cities of the Midwest in the 1890s may have accounted for a dwindling black population. In 2000 the black population of Kentucky was relatively low at 295,994 (7.3%). Kentucky was a center of the American (or Know-Nothing) Party, a pre–Civil War movement whose majority were staunchly anti-immigration and anti-Catholic. With relatively little opportunity for industrial employment, Kentucky attracted small numbers of foreign immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. The state had 80,271 foreign-born residents in 2000 (2% of the total population), up from 34,119 in 1990. Among persons reporting a single ancestry in the 2000 census, a total of 391,542 claimed English descent, 514,955 German, 424,133 Irish, and 66,147 French.
In 2000, the Asian population was estimated at 29,744, and the Native American population was estimated at 8,616. The 2000 census reported 3,818 Koreans, 6,771 Asian Indians (up from 2,367 in 1990), 3,683 Japanese, 3,596 Vietnamese (up from 1,340 in 1990), and 5,397 Chinese (up from 3,137). In 2000, a total of 59,939 (1.5%) state residents were Hispanic or Latino, up from 33,000 (0.8%) in 1990, with 31,385 reporting Mexican ancestry and 6,469 Puerto Rican ancestry. Pacific Islanders numbered 1,460.