Illinois losing 1 resident every 5 minutes to out-migration

Illinois losing 1 resident every 5 minutes to out-migration

Illinois has a stunning loss of 105,000 people to other states, causing population to shrink by 22,000.

The U.S. Census Bureau report released Dec. 22 is compelling evidence that Illinois needs pro-growth, pro-jobs reforms. The report shows that Illinois recorded its first six-digit loss of residents to other states, with Illinois losing 105,000 more people to other states than it gained from July 2014 to July 2015.

The “border war” losses were so bad that Illinois’ total population shrank by 22,000 people on the year, the worst ever. Similar to last year’s 2013-2014 data, Illinois is the only state in the region to have a shrinking population.


Illinois’ loss of 105,000 people to other states tops last year’s loss of 95,000 people to other states, which was a record at the time. The Census population data, which looks broadly at the entire population and is more current than migration reports from the Internal Revenue Service, show that the exodus from Illinois has accelerated to an all-time high.


The 2014-2015 loss brings Illinois’ five-year tally to 400,000 people lost on net to other states, and 10-year tally to 700,000 people lost on net to other states.

Based on the Census data, Illinois is now losing one person to another state every five minutes, on net. This is the fastest rate ever, up from one person every 7.5 minutes in 2011.


The overwhelming out-migration losses drove Illinois’ population to shrink by 22,000 people. Like every other state, Illinois had more births than deaths. And like every other state, Illinois gained people from international immigration. Without factoring in the domestic border wars, Illinois’ population would have grown by around 80,000. However, Illinois’ 105,000-person net migration loss to other states was so tremendous that the state’s population shrank by 22,000 people on the year.


With Illinois’ population shrinking two years in a row, Pennsylvania is now closing in on the Land of Lincoln and could soon become the fifth-most-populous state in the U.S. Modest annual population growth in the Keystone State combined with a shrinking population in Illinois means that Pennsylvania is now within 57,500 people of Illinois for total population. Illinois’ July 2015 population estimate is 12,859,995, compared to Pennsylvania’s 12,802,503.

The population gap between Illinois and Pennsylvania has been closing since the 2010 census. This turn of events should worry Illinoisans because Pennsylvania itself is barely growing. Based on the trend line from the last five years, Pennsylvania’s total population could catch up to Illinois’ by the next census in 2020.


Illinois’ lack of economic opportunity is a major factor in this story, as Illinoisans increasingly become economic refugees to other states. While many Midwestern states have modest out-migration losses, particularly to southern and western states, none but Illinois’ are so bad as to cause shrinking populations. Illinois loses population to all regions of the country, including to every other state in the Midwest.

Whether Illinoisans are leaving for better jobs, safer neighborhoods, a better environment in which to start businesses, less corruption, better schools, lower property taxes or nicer weather, they are moving out and quickly. Natural factors such as weather cannot be addressed by policy changes, but Illinois’ terrible jobs climate certainly can be.

Illinois’ harmful tax and regulatory policies smother economic opportunity, and the state’s broken political system gives insiders sweetheart deals and leaves ordinary residents with soaring tax bills. As blue-collar jobs in industries such as manufacturing disappear from the Land of Lincoln, millions of middle-class Illinoisans are being forced to decide between two sobering options:

  • Leave to find opportunity in another state, an option that year after year of record out-migration rates show many are choosing, or
  • Stay and become dependent on government assistance, as experienced by Illinois’ nearly 2 million people on food stamps, the highest percentage in the region.

Economic reforms, spending reforms and political reforms are needed at all levels of government to fix these problems. Economic reforms should include fixing the state’s broken workers’ compensation system and anti-business lawsuit climate, along with encouraging Right to Work at the local level.

Spending reform should focus on freezing property taxes, which can be achieved by fixing Illinois’ increasingly distressed government-worker pension systems and then diverting some of the savings to education funding. Spending reforms should also give local governments the power to address cost drivers such as the prevailing wage, collective-bargaining agreements and workers’ compensation.

Finally, policymakers should enact political reforms such as term limits and fair election maps to dismantle the state and local systems of political corruption and dysfunction.

More than 100,000 Illinoisans per year, on net, are voting with their feet and leaving the state. Illinois’ population is shrinking. The state desperately needs reform – just ask all those Illinoisans who have given up on waiting for it and are looking at their home state in their rear-view mirrors.

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