Kentucky is one of four states in the United States that are stylized as a commonwealth. It was originally considered to be part of Virginia, but it then split off in 1792 to become the 15th state that joined the Union. It is often referred to as the Bluegrass State because that species of grass is found in many of the fields and pastures.
There are two major cities in the state: Lexington and Louisville. You’ll also find that living here puts in you close contact with a diverse set of environments and abundant resources. The world’s longest cave system is in the state, along with several navigable waterways. You can also enjoy the two largest human-made lakes that are east of the Mississippi River here.
You can also enjoy the expansive park system in the state, which includes two national recreational areas, a national park, 45 state parks, and almost 40,000 acres of state forests. It is also the location of the two most successful wildlife reintroduction projects in U.S. history, focusing on elk and wild turkeys.
If you’re thinking about living in Kentucky, then here are some of the pros and cons you’ll want to consider.
List of the Pros of Living in Kentucky
1. Kentucky is home to a robust workforce.
The state is known for its auto manufacturing industry, which can be a surprising benefit to those who are familiar with the traditions and reputation of Michigan and Detroit. Toyota has facilities that operate in Erlanger and Georgetown. Ford has an assembly plant operating in Louisville as well. These are the top three employers in the state. You’ll also find plenty of opportunities in the education and healthcare industries.
The overall unemployment rate is a little higher in Kentucky than the national average, but by less than 0.5% most months. It also dropped in 2018 in 117 counties in the state from the previous year.
2. You will get to enjoy the rivalry between Louisville and Kentucky.
Some of the best college towns in the United States are found in Kentucky. Both Louisville and Lexington are great places to live, and you’ll find lots of exciting activities to pursue when living here. It’s a college basketball hotbed that is perennially competitive, so you’ll see the future stars of the NBA coming through town most years. Fans loving rooting for their favorite teams and will ask you about your support. There’s no room for acceptance if you try to be neutral, so just give in and enjoy the ride.
3. Kentucky makes some world-class bourbon.
The world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® is one of the best experiences that you can enjoy when living in this state. There are 11 different distilleries to find here, with most residents making the trip several times throughout the year to enjoy the distinctive flavors of this popular signature spirit. You’ll get the opportunity to learn more about how it is created as well, along with the science of what happens when creating it. Don’t forget about the tasting samples that are available at most locations!
4. Housing costs in Kentucky are relatively affordable.
There’s an excellent chance that you can afford a home when you start living in Kentucky. The median price as of 2019 was listed at $125,000 – although you’ll pay a little more for the privilege of living somewhere like Lexington or Louisville. If that price seems out of reach, then the median monthly rental cost in the state is just under $800. That means your expenses are going to be significantly lower than what you’ll find across the rest of the United States. Although you’re in a land-locked location, it doesn’t take much to make it out to a local lake or take a day trip to a favorite spot.
5. Kentucky and hot browns are the perfect combination.
If you have never tried a hot brown before, then you’re going to be in for a pleasant surprise when you start living in Kentucky. These open-faced sandwiches are made with bacon, turkey, and a tomato slice if you’re lucky. Then there is a thick smear of Mornay sauce that gets soaked into the Texas toast. The reason for the name is because of where the sandwich was invented, which was the Brown Hotel in Louisville all the way back in 1926. You can still order it there today, or almost anywhere else in the state since it is considered one of the region’s culinary treasures.
6. You’ll have access to plenty of outdoor adventures when living in Kentucky.
When you start living in Kentucky, then you will find that it is very easy to start enjoying the various natural opportunities that the state provides. There are some must-see places that you’ll want to check off of your list right away, such as Mammoth Cave National Park. Lake Cumberland is another spot that you’ll love, and Otter Creek is a beautiful outdoor recreational area to enjoy.
Another local favorite is the Red River Gorge, where you’ll find lots of hiking and climbing opportunities to enjoy. Make sure that you see the Natural Bridge, which is a sandstone arch that formed in the area.
7. You’ll get to enjoy five seasons every year when living in Kentucky.
Living in Kentucky means that you’ll get to enjoy four distinctive weather seasons. You’ll have the temperatures start turning in late September or so, speaking of the winter that will want to start moving in soon. The trees turn beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow throughout the state. If you love winter, then there is enough snow most years to enjoy some cross-country skiing.
Then there is the fifth season in Kentucky, which is Derby season. The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs occurs in May of each year. There are several weeks of festivals, celebrations, and parties that lead up to the racing day. Visiting during this time of year is the perfect way to experience the state for the first time.
8. Kentucky provides you with an excellent centralized location.
If you start living in Kentucky, then your location places you centrally in the southcentral part of the United States. You’re going to be within reach of several cities, including St. Louis, Nashville, and Cincinnati. You can take a quick trip up to Chicago without much difficulty, or you can choose to head south toward Atlanta or even the Gulf Coast if you don’t mind a longer drive. If you’ve always wanted to explore that area of the country, then living in this state is the perfect way to create the base of operations that you’ll need.
9. There are numerous hunting seasons to enjoy in Kentucky.
You will find that hunting is more than a popular activity when living in Kentucky. It is a way of life. Many families fill their tags as a way to supply food for themselves throughout the winter months. There is a season for almost everything in the state, including river otter, squirrel, turkeys, and black bear. It’s also one of the few states where you can legally hunt elk and bobcat. If you like to take a walk in the forest, make sure that you’re wearing something highly visible and know if anything is in season.
10. The tax code is beneficial for most households in Kentucky.
Kentucky ranks in the top 10 states to live in the U.S. because of its tax situation, especially when looking at what life is like for retirees. The top individual income tax rate in the state is 5%, which is significantly lower than what you can find in some places out west. The state and local individual income tax collections per person are just under $1,300, while the state and local tax burden shakedown at 9.5%. There are several income tax benefits and exemptions to consider, so each situation is going to be a little different.
List of the Cons of Living in Kentucky
1. Getting to know the language of Kentucky can be a challenge.
Most stereotypes form because there is at least a hint of truth to the perspective. If you’ve heard that Kentucky is a state full of “hillbillies,” then what you are really being told is that the southern drawl in the local language can be a challenge to understand. There are a few different words that are used here that take some getting to know as well. If you live on a dirt road, then you actually live on a “holler.” And don’t be surprised if someone calls you and your wife a couple of “fellers.”
2. There are fewer activities to enjoy for non-rural families.
Kentucky still has a wholesome atmosphere to it that you can find throughout most of the 425 communities. The kids still play outside a lot here. You’ll see them digging in the dirt, climbing trees, and jumping into the lakes. That also means there are bunches of kids that roam around some neighborhoods without much adult supervision. If your kiddo loves to collect rocks or hunt crawdads in the local creek, then they’re going to have a lot of fun living here. When their preference is theater, creative arts, or a sport other than basketball, it may be more of a challenge to adapt to their new life.
3. You’re going to need to learn the barbecue differences in the state.
There are two distinctive types of barbecue that you can find when living in Kentucky. If you’re living in the south-central part of the state, then it means you’ll get a sliced pork shoulder topped with a pepper sauce, some vinegar, and bread that will soak up all of the liquid pretty quickly. When you live further to the west, then you’re going to receive a lamb shoulder with a sauce that is typically Worcestershire, but could also involve a healthy dose of soy sauce. You need to ask in advance to make sure that you know what you’re getting.
4. The weather might be nice, but it can also be frightening.
If you are moving to Kentucky from the west coast, then you will want to take the severe storm warnings seriously when living here. Tornado warnings are no joke. If you see that there is a weather event headed your way, then you’ll want to take cover and know what to do. It isn’t going to be an everyday event, but there are a good 2-3 storms each year that are going to rattle your windows.
5. Hunting season equates to more vehicle-animal accidents.
When you start living in Kentucky, then you’re going to be living close to many different forms of wildlife. The turkey and deer populations are especially high, which for the former animal is a good thing since the population numbers were down to 900 just a couple of decades ago. When hunting season rolls around, you’ll discover that there are more animals trying to cross the road while driving. Deer season tends to be the worst, where accidents tend to occur most often. Make sure that you have the appropriate insurance on your vehicle to manage this disadvantage, and then try to drive defensively whenever possible.
6. Kentucky’s income tax rate is a flat 5% for everyone.
Although Kentucky does rank as one of the better income-friendly states in the U.S., changes in 2018 have shifted the burden of paying taxes to those with the lowest income levels. 95% of Kentuckians are paying more in total taxes in 2019 than they were the year before, and it is the wealthiest 5% that get to see a tax break. If you earn less than $21,000 as a household or $12,000 as an individual, then your per capita tax rate went up by 0.8%, while those making an average income of $250,000 or more saw a cut of 0.2% to 0.5%. Many of the changes are due to sales tax changes that occurred.
7. Retirees recently experienced a reduction in their exemption.
Retirees used to benefit from Kentucky’s income laws because they could exempt their first $41,110 in retirement income from the state’s tax policies. Changes in 2018 shifted that amount to $31,110 – a $10k decrease in the maximum allowed under the law. This disadvantage is part of the overall base-broadening efforts taken by the state’s legislature to reduce income tax deductions while expanding sales taxes to services rendered. Much of the revenue generated by these efforts goes toward income tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest 5%, which means there can be a need in some communities to invest in schools.
8. The cities in Kentucky have pollution issues that you’ll want to consider.
The air in Louisville can be so polluted that you can smell the factories from the other side of the city. There can also be traffic issues in the city, as well as Lexington, then can generate the potential for smog when an inversion settles in during the summer. Most communities are working towns here, so the people tend to have a focus on getting their to-do lists completed for the day. That means there can be a lack of social opportunities as well, which means you might find your evenings filled with Netflix while you run the air conditioner to feel comfortable.
9. People tend to group together based on their ethnicity.
You will not find a lot of cross-cultural opportunities when you start living in Kentucky. Although this issue has improved somewhat over the last generation, people tend to stay together based on their ethnicity. Straying from your group can create some unpleasant results in some communities. You will experience this issue based on community as well. People ask you more about where you went to school then they do about your career or what faith you follow. There are some notable exceptions to this issue, like when you see the local ballet or orchestra. Everyone comes together to cheer on their favorite college teams as well.
The pros and cons of living in Kentucky ultimately come down to the needs of your family. There are some excellent jobs to find in the state, low property costs, and the tax situation is favorable for most households. If you can find a way to balance the potential disadvantages that you might encounter with all of the positives you can find, then moving here could be one of the best decisions you could make.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.