Fly away home

Fly away home

Every five minutes, Illinois loses a resident to another state.

Paul Kaup’s first job out of high school was tossing luggage at Midway Airport in Chicago. But he always dreamed of taking to the skies.

Kaup lives his dream now. He works as a pilot for a major airline. But Illinois isn’t home anymore.

This summer, Kaup and his family joined the thousands of Illinoisans boarding flights, renting vans and skipping town for greener pastures. The Kaups left Illinois and moved south to Arizona.

A jarring property-tax hike forced them out.

Every five minutes, Illinois loses a resident to another state. And it’s not just retired snowbirds.

Adults in their prime working years, ages 24 to 54, are leaving Illinois in droves. The Land of Lincoln suffered a net loss of 290,000 prime working age adults due to outmigration alone over the last decade, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

And U.S. Census Bureau data show that not only is the state’s total population shrinking due to outmigration, but an overwhelming majority of Illinois’ largest cities are shrinking as well.

“I know what it is like to see your family uprooted,” Kaup said. “I know what it’s like to see your friends and neighbors complain daily about the situation that the state of Illinois is in.”

Uprooting a family comes with more profound consequences than a number on a page and a “For Sale” sign. The Kaups were not only part of the fabric of their Spring Grove, Ill., community; they were the stitching.

Last summer, Paul organized a six-week basketball camp for kids in 2nd through 8th grade, and gave local high-school students $15 an hour to coach. He didn’t see a dime. Last fall, he coached two teams in a youth engineering competition called FIRST LEGO League. And this spring, he volunteered to teach aeronautics to 15 local students. The culmination of their work will be a trip to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Paul’s wife, Karen, had a strict open-door policy for Spring Grove’s youth. While the Kaups have three children, most of the 54,000 miles on the family car came with all seven seats filled. Her Illinois home was a welcoming one.

But no longer. Lucky kids in Gilbert, Ariz., have those privileges now.

Census survey data show two-thirds of Americans moving 500 miles or more are driven to do so by employment or housing reasons. Illinois is weak on both fronts.

The Land of Lincoln is the second-worst state in the nation for putting people back to work after the Great Recession, with 111,000 fewer people working today compared to before the Great Recession began.

And homeowners face the nation’s highest property taxes.

In return for giving back to their community, the Kaups saw a $3,200 hike in their property-tax bill this year, for a total of $13,800. The eye-popping increase came after the local assessor reassessed property values within three neighborhoods in their township.

“I don’t want to pay for this disaster that politicians put us into,” Kaup said. “I have severe heartache with paying for a problem I didn’t create.”

The Kaup’s new house in Phoenix is about 900 square feet smaller than their former Illinois home, but they saved more than $10,000 on the property-tax bill alone.

Spring Grove is located in McHenry County, which is home to the highest property taxes in the state. Average property-tax bills eat up 8 percent of the typical household income there, according to research from the Illinois Policy Institute.

Illinois needs families like the Kaups. The state is dimmer without them.

But you can’t blame them for leaving.

Until major spending reforms bring down local tax bills and economic reforms bring decent jobs back to Illinois, expect thousands more like them to take flight.

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