Decatur shrinks as Illinois manufacturing declines

Decatur shrinks as Illinois manufacturing declines

Macon County is one of the 89 counties out of Illinois’ 102 that are losing residents.

The Decatur metro area is in decline, losing more than 800 residents on net from July 2015 to July 2016, according to newly released information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The population figures for the Decatur metro area, which includes Macon County, showed 1,317 births, 1,171 deaths and 92 immigrant arrivals. However, 1,026 people left the Decatur metro area for other U.S. localities. The area lost 827 people as a result of this out-migration.

Macon County is one of the 89 counties out of Illinois’ 102 that are losing residents. One of the biggest driving factors of this exodus is the downstate jobs crisis. From October 2015 to October 2016, the greater Chicago area created 33,500 jobs while downstate Illinois lost 2,700 jobs.

The divide is just as much occupational as it is geographical.

One of the factors exacerbating Illinois’ worst-in-the-region out-migration is the manufacturing crisis. From December 2015 to December 2016, Illinois lost 7,700 manufacturing jobs, and the manufacturing losses are not just a recent problem. Since the turn of the century, Illinois has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Union membership is also declining. In 2016, Illinois lost 35,000 union members, while Indiana gained 21,000. Indiana manufacturing workers also make more than manufacturing workers in Illinois when adjusted for cost of living and taxes, and personal income in the Hoosier State has grown twice as fast as Illinois’ since the start of the Great Recession.

And while Illinois has gained white-collar and service-industry jobs, the net jobs growth has all been located in the greater Chicago area; and even so, the growth in jobs has not stopped out-migration from Cook and the collar counties.

Decatur, like many downstate communities, used to be a hub for manufacturing. But since the turn of the century, Decatur, like the rest of Illinois, has seen a massive reduction in the number of people manufacturers employ. In 2000, Decatur had 14,000 manufacturing jobs, but by 2016 manufacturing jobs dropped 28 percent to 10,100, according to figures Illinois Manufacturers’ Association CEO Greg Baise provided and the Herald & Review reported. Companies continue to reduce operations and some have even pulled out completely, such as Meda Pharmaceuticals, which announced in March 2017 its plans to close its Decatur plant. Though there is an occasional transfer or influx of some manufacturing jobs into the city, residents of Decatur have seen manufacturing jobs grow scarcer and scarcer.

Illinois’ economic policies make it harder to compete with other states for much-coveted manufacturing jobs. The Prairie State has the highest workers’ compensation costs in the Midwest and some of the highest property taxes in the nation, doubling the national average. Not only do high property taxes hurt homeowners, they also take a toll on businesses of all sizes, including manufacturers.

The 2011 tax increase hurt Illinois families as well as manufacturers at a time when both individuals and companies were vulnerable in the recovery period after the Great Recession. The 2011 tax hike increased personal income taxes 67 percent and corporate taxes 46 percent. And though the 2011 tax hike was pitched as temporary, the rates never fully returned to their 2010 rates. In effect, the 2011 tax hike partially remained, setting permanent increases of 25 percent for individuals and 9 percent for corporations from their 2010 rates. This tax hike not only strained working- and middle-class families recovering from the Great Recession, but also gave companies one more reason to leave.

Residents of Decatur and the rest of the state should look for real solutions from Springfield to keep jobs and people in Illinois. The General Assembly needs to learn from the mistakes of the past and pass a balanced budget free of tax hikes. Lawmakers should also aim for an agenda that will enact pro-growth policies. Communities like Decatur would be grateful.

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