Illinois’ out-migration problem is often described as symptomatic of the Midwest and normal for a Rust Belt state.
But even among other Midwestern states, Illinois is an outlier.
While it is true most Midwest states have net outflow to the rest of the country, Illinois is very different. Illinois’ out-migration rate per 1,000 residents is the worst in the region by several multiples. Furthermore, half of the total out-migration losses from July 2015-July 2016 in the entire Midwest, which has a population of 65 million people, came from Illinois, which only has a population of 12.8 million people
The U.S. Census Bureau records domestic migration rates per 1,000 residents for each state. This way of keeping the records adjusts the migration losses for each state’s population to make it an apples-to-apples comparison regardless of a state’s size. Looking at migration losses per 1,000 residents shows how Illinois is truly an outlier.
Illinois lost 114,000 people to domestic migration against a total population of 12.8 million people. That works out to a loss of nine people per 1,000 residents. The next-worst surrounding state was Michigan, where the domestic migration loss was 2.8 people per 1,000 residents. Michigan’s loss rate is nowhere close to Illinois’, and every other state in the Midwest was significantly better than Michigan.
This means that after adjusting for population, Illinois’ loss rate is many times worse than all surrounding states. Illinois’ loss rate is more than three times worse than Michigan’s, four times worse than Ohio and Wisconsin, five times worse than Indiana and more than eight times worse than Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Minnesota.
When the out-migration rate for these surrounding states is averaged based on their weighted populations, Illinois is five times worse than the average of surrounding states.
As a result of Illinois’ rapid flight rate, the Land of Lincoln is the only shrinking state in the Midwest.
It is difficult for any state to have enough out-migration to shrink, but Illinois managed to pull it off for three years in a row. Every state except Maine and West Virginia has more births than deaths, and so does Illinois. In the Land of Lincoln, there were 47,000 more births than deaths from July 2015 – July 2016. Every state also gains residents from international immigration, and Illinois does too. Illinois gained about 30,000 residents from other countries from July 2015 – July 2016. However, Illinois’ net loss of 114,000 people to other states overwhelmed the normal channels of population growth all states experience, and caused Illinois’ total population to shrink by 37,500 people.
The only Midwest state ever as bad on out-migration as Illinois currently looks was Michigan during the years leading up to Detroit’s bankruptcy. Michigan’s two worst years for out-migration were 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. In those years, the Wolverine State lost 94,000 and 109,000 people on net to other states, nearly as bad as Illinois’ 105,000 loss in 2014-2015 and 114,000 person loss in 2015-2016.
The loss rate per 1,000 residents was also high in Michigan for those two years. Michigan’s 2006-2007 loss rate was 9.4 residents lost per 1,000, and the 2007-2008 rate was 10.9 residents lost per 1,000. Illinois’ most recent loss is equal to 8.9 residents per 1,000. The only time Michigan saw worse numbers were the two years the auto companies were tilting toward bankruptcy and the city of Detroit was doing the same.
The truth of the matter is that Illinois’ out-migration rate far exceeds the rate of surrounding states because Illinois’ fiscal and economic policies have been a disaster for decades. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Job creation is stagnant, and the bill for decades of over-promising and over-spending is coming due while the legislature refuses to change anything meaningful about how state government is run.
The sheer magnitude of Illinois’ most recent migration loss is bad enough to cause the state population to shrink. When out-migration is viewed as a proportion of population, Illinois is by far the worst in the region and five times worse than a normal Midwest state like Indiana. Illinois’ out-migration is many times worse than any surrounding state because Illinois is in the midst of a man-made exodus.