Illinois sees worst population decline since World War II

Illinois sees worst population decline since World War II

Even subtracting COVID-19 deaths, Illinois still suffered its largest population drop in modern history in the first year of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s fiscal policies, including 20 new tax and fee hikes, as well as his pandemic response.

Illinois recorded a seventh straight year of population loss, but the drop was historic – 79,487 residents from July 2019 to July 2020, the most since World War II and the second largest of any state in raw numbers or percentage of population.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Dec. 22 shows only New York lost a greater number or share of residents during the year.

The data marks the seventh consecutive year Illinois has experienced population decline, the longest streak in state history. That streak is the second-longest in the nation, behind only West Virginia, which has battled population decline for eight consecutive years. Meanwhile, Connecticut is the only other state to experience seven consecutive years of population decline. However, Illinois holds the distinct title of suffering the most consecutive years of worsening population decline, being the only state where population loss has accelerated each year for the past seven years.

The last time Illinois lost more residents in a year was in 1945, when the population was down 118,000 residents. The next year Illinois gained 554,000 residents, indicating the losses in 1945 were most likely deployments for World War II.

Even subtracting the 6,951 deaths from COVID-19 suffered in Illinois as of July 1, the 2020 losses are still the biggest population drop since WWII.

From July 2010 to July 2020, Illinois has lost a grand total of 253,015 residents, more than triple the amount lost by any other state during that time. This is roughly equivalent to losing the combined populations of Naperville and Peoria. On a percentage basis, only West Virginia lost a greater share of its state population over that time.

While data scheduled to be released in February 2021 will shed light on 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 hindered by poor public policy in Illinois. Nearly half of Illinoisans have thought about moving away, and they said taxes were their No. 1 reason.

Now, more than ever, Illinois needs to foster an environment where its residents can thrive. The wrong answers are adding new taxation, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker 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%. Illinoisans are leaving – a message Pritzker and state lawmakers ignore at everyone’s peril.

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 someone from choosing another state.

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