Illinois breaks record for population loss, outmigration in 2021

Illinois breaks record for population loss, outmigration in 2021

Despite a higher-than-expected 2020 population count, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Illinoisans moving away was the sole reason for the state’s record loss of the equivalent of nearly everyone in Springfield.

Illinois’ population declined by a record 113,776 residents from July 2020-July 2021, according to estimates released Dec. 21 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

This marks the eighth consecutive year of population decline for Illinois, according to Census Bureau estimates. The only state that’s population has been in decline longer, West Virginia, currently is suffering its ninth consecutive year of population decline.

Illinois continues to see a natural increase in population as births outpace deaths, but by an increasingly narrow margin. It also is gaining residents from abroad. But so many people are moving out of Illinois to other states that the state’s total population is in decline.

Estimates from the Census Bureau show there were 2,778 more births than deaths in Illinois, 5,766 net migrants gained from abroad, but 122,460 residents lost on net to other states. The loss in residents to other states was the largest in state history.

Both domestic outmigration and total population decline were third-worst in the nation in terms of the raw number – better than only New York and California.

They were second-worst in the nation as a percentage of population – better than only New York.

The new estimates take into account the official 2020 Census count, which showed Illinois’ population was higher than expected, though still within the Census Bureau’s margin of error for their total population estimates. While many were quick to celebrate the 2020 Census results as proof Illinois’ outmigration crisis had been overblown, the new estimates confirm the most likely scenario: people are moving out of a shrinking Illinois.

Given that new estimates suggest even further outmigration and population decline than in years past, it is likely Illinois’ increased census outreach spending and improvements in Census methodology – such as the ability to respond online – resulted in a higher, more accurate baseline count in 2020 than in 2010, but that the estimated components of population change were still fairly accurate.

That shows a sad truth that Illinois’ outmigration crisis is not only real, but worse than ever and accelerating.

Historically speaking, the major reasons Illinoisans are choosing to leave the state are for better housing and employment opportunities, both of which have been made worse by poor public policy in Illinois. Nearly half of Illinoisans have thought about moving away, and they said taxes were their No. 1 reason. Population decline also contributes to the lower economic prospects of the state.

It remains unclear to what extent these factors contributed to Illinoisans moving out of state from 2020-2021, rather than other factors such as pandemic-related job losses, school closures and government mandates. Nonetheless, Census data confirms Illinois’ outmigration-driven population decline has reached record levels and is more of a problem now than ever, regardless of the cause.

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