Our regrettable shrinking state

Austin Berg

Senior Writer

Austin Berg
December 30, 2016

Our regrettable shrinking state

The U.S. Census Bureau released new migration data Dec. 20, and it’s frightening. Illinois has a massive people problem. From July 2015 to July 2016, the state’s population declined by more than 37,000 people. That’s the worst population loss in the nation, and will likely mean the loss of a seat in the U.S. House...

The U.S. Census Bureau released new migration data Dec. 20, and it’s frightening. Illinois has a massive people problem.

From July 2015 to July 2016, the state’s population declined by more than 37,000 people. That’s the worst population loss in the nation, and will likely mean the loss of a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Pennsylvania, which also experienced a net population loss in the Census, is now set to overtake Illinois as the fifth-largest state. Illinois is simply sliding backward faster.

Census data show an alarmingly rapid trend fueling Illinois’ shrinkage: Illinoisans leaving for greener pastures. And Springfield has had practically no solutions for this problem.

Illinois lost more than 114,000 people to other states over this period. That’s akin to losing almost the entire population of Peoria in a single year, or 1 Illinoisan every 4 minutes 36 seconds.

Lynn Cisco is one Peorian who’s already left.

After moving to Indiana in 2015, Cisco said her family is saving more than $400 a month on property taxes alone.

“We felt like suckers for staying [in Illinois] for so long. That [property tax] bill affects how you structure your family,” she said.

Cisco’s husband works for Caterpillar as a service engineer, and was transferred to Lafayette.

“I’m convinced Caterpillar is slowly, stealthily moving out of Illinois. The world headquarters might stay in Peoria but the manufacturing is absolutely leaving,” she said.

The long-term trend of Illinoisans leaving for other states is astonishing.

Since 2000, Illinois has lost 1.2 million more people to other states than it gained from other states. This is roughly equal to the 10 largest Illinois cities outside of Chicago vanishing: Aurora, Rockford, Joliet, Naperville, Springfield, Peoria, Elgin, Waukegan, Champaign and Arlington Heights.

All gone in a flash.

Tom Paul is leaving for Arizona.

He’s worked as a police officer and crime analyst in a village near the Wisconsin border for 30 years. But he won’t be able to afford Lake County property taxes on a fixed retirement income. After that bill hit $5,000 a year in 2013, he and his wife began planning their escape.

“Our kids are here, our grandbabies are here, but we’ve done the numbers on trying to maintain a home in Illinois and that math does not work at all,” he said. “We’ve lived here all our lives so the weather wasn’t really a driver. The main driver is the fixed income and zero trust in government to get these costs under control.”

Some politicians refuse to believe this flight of people and wealth means anything about the state of the state. Steve Brown, the spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan, had this to say about Illinois’ out-migration during an August interview on Chicago’s AM 560:

“The important thing is to figure out the ‘why.’ What part of it is due to the quality of government services and what part of it is due to your grandchildren living somewhere, you’re retiring, [and] you want to be in a warmer climate? Nobody’s ever done that kind of qualitative analysis — of the ‘why’ part.”

Brown was either clueless or lying.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found in October that nearly half of Illinoisans want to leave the state. Pollsters asked why. The most common response? Taxes.

And data show it isn’t retired snowbirds driving the majority of Illinois’ migration losses: It’s working-age adults.

Kayla Williams and her young son are leaving for Minnesota.

The budget impasse has thrown her work as a legal advocate for domestic violence victims into disarray. And she pays around $3,700 a year in property taxes on a Springfield home she can’t sell for $50,000.

“We tax everything and there’s still money for nothing,” she said. “You can’t really get much of a break in Illinois.”

Good luck trying to balance a state budget in the long term while young taxpayers like Williams are leaving in droves.

And hiking taxes on a population that’s clearly had enough is a great way to accelerate that trend.

Springfield lawmakers need to take a hard look at the long-term drift that has led the state to this point. Blaming the budget impasse is convenient, but isn’t grounded in reality.

Illinoisans pay among the highest property taxes in the nation, suffer under the worst manufacturing jobs growth in the region, and aren’t seeing any signs of a better jobs climate or lower tax burden in the near future.

Illinoisans are holding politicians accountable for this state of affairs in the most damning way possible: mass exodus.

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