Illinois only Midwest state to lose people in past decade
Illinois’ population decline has been accelerating during the past 7 years, while neighboring states gain from that loss.
Illinois lost three times as many residents as any other state during the past decade.
While total numbers for the decade were bad, the ongoing worry is because losses were accelerating.
Illinois recorded a seventh straight year of population loss from July 2019 to July 2020, but the year’s drop was historic – 79,487 residents, the most since World War II and the second largest of any state in raw numbers or percentage of population. Larger declines year over year have also caused Illinois to suffer the largest raw decline in population, and second largest on a percentage basis since 2010, shedding 253,015 people – triple any other state’s losses.
Population decline is even worse when you consider the experiences of nearby states last year and during the decade. The Midwest as a whole grew population by 1.34 million from 2010 to 2020, and Illinois was the only state in the entire region to experience population loss during the decade.
While Illinois has experienced seven straight years of worsening population decline, only two other states in the region witnessed an instance of population decline this past decade. Ohio’s population shrank in 2020 and Michigan lost population in 2019 and 2020, although both states grew by approximately 154,000 and 89,000 respectively during the decade.
The stark contrast between Illinois’ experience and that of its neighbors shows the state’s people problem isn’t part of a larger regional trend. While other states have been able to substantially grow their populations, Illinois has been the lone loser. The key factor separating Illinois from other states is not declining births or higher death rates, but heavy population losses from people moving out of the state.
While data scheduled to be released in February 2021 will show the main drivers of population loss in 2020, historical data shows domestic outmigration – moving to and from other states – has been the sole driver of population decline. Major reasons Illinoisans are choosing to leave the state are for better housing and employment opportunities, both of which have been hurt by poor public policy choices that have driven up property, income and other taxes in Illinois. Nearly half of Illinoisans have thought about moving away, and they said taxes was their No. 1 reason.
Illinois needs an environment where residents can thrive and the most vulnerable are protected. Adding new taxation while cutting more services will only make more people want to leave, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker keeps pushing for higher taxes. That’s what he did in 2019 with 20 new taxes and fees, tried to do in 2020 with the failed “fair tax” and is threatening to do in 2021 with a state income tax increase of up to 20%. More taxes, while more public services are taken away.
Illinoisans are leaving. If Pritzker and state lawmakers continue to ignore that message, it imperils everyone left behind.
Instead of looking for more in taxes, they should fix the state’s finances by enacting constitutional pension reform that would protect core services that Illinoisans rely on and protect the government pension systems themselves. Constitutional pension reform would offer overburdened Illinois taxpayers a path to declining debt, lower taxes, more effective state government and a more sustainable recovery – and maybe stop the next moving van headed out of Illinois.