Nearly all Illinois metro areas lost population in 2021
Illinois’ record population decline affected virtually all of the state’s largest cities.
Illinois’ population decline reached record levels in 2021 as the state’s population dropped by 113,776 residents from July 2020-July 2021.
During the year, population decline was widespread, affecting nearly all metropolitan areas of the state. Ten of the state’s 14 metro areas experienced population decline, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released March 24.
While the Elgin, Champaign-Urbana, Cape Girardeau and Bloomington metros added residents during 2021, every other metropolitan area in Illinois lost residents. St. Louis, which is primarily located outside of Illinois, also experienced population decline.
The largest decline, both in numeric and percentage terms came from the Chicago-Naperville-Evanston metropolitan division. The division – which excludes non-Illinois portions of the Chicagoland area – lost 92,687 residents last year, nearly 1.3% of the metro’s entire population. Decatur and Danville each also shed more than 1% of their populations last year. Peoria lost about 3,000 residents.
The Chicago-Naperville-Evanston metropolitan division ranked sixth worst nationally for population decline as a percentage of population among major metropolitan divisions and third worst for total numeric population decline.
Similarly, Decatur experienced the ninth worst population decline while Danville suffered the 12th worst population decline as a share of total population out of the nation’s 384 metropolitan areas. The Peoria, Springfield, Kankakee and Rockford metropolitan areas all ranked among the worst in the nation for population decline, each performing in the bottom 11% of metro areas nationally for population growth.
As most metros lost population, they also struggled to recover job losses felt at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bloomington, the only metropolitan area in the state to fully recover to pre-pandemic employment levels, was one of the only metros that avoided population decline in 2021.
Danville and Decatur are the second- and third-least recovered metros in the state in terms of employment after performing equally as poorly when it comes to population decline in 2021. The bulk of the state’s missing jobs come from Chicago, which is missing 125,900 jobs relative to pre-pandemic levels. The area is also responsible for the bulk of population decline, dropping by 92,687 residents from mid-2020 to mid-2021 alone.
It remains unclear how factors such as pandemic-related job losses, school closures and government mandates impacted migration decisions. However, the major reasons Illinoisans have historically chosen 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.
Illinois is still missing more than 178,000 jobs relative to its pre-pandemic peak, the state’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation and population decline threatens to prevent employment levels from achieving a full recovery.
Making matters worse, lawmakers have put Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Amendment 1 would change the Illinois Constitution to grant unions in Illinois more extreme powers than they have in any other state, including the ability to bargain over virtually limitless subjects, the ability to override state law through their contracts, and a guarantee that taxpayers and lawmakers would have an extremely difficult time reversing course.
Should Amendment 1 pass, Illinois’ $317 billion pension debt will continue to balloon as state and local taxes, which are already among the highest in the nation, rise in an attempt to keep up. Spending on vital programs will continue to fall. Illinois’ housing and labor markets are already suffering as high taxes and reduced services make finding a job and living in the state tenuous.
Illinois needs reform that will rein in the state’s cost drivers and deliver services to residents in exchange for their tax dollars. Amendment 1 ensures those challenges will increase.