The Policy Shop: How much potential does Illinois have?

The Policy Shop: How much potential does Illinois have?

This episode of The Policy Shop is by Director of Policy Research Joseph Tabor.

During the social turmoil of the 1960s, a happy, dancing pop group emerged to emphasize unity and harmony: Up With People.

“If more people were for people,
All people ev’rywhere,
There’d be a lot less people to worry about,
And a lot more people who care.”

Saccharine. Simplistic. Maybe. But the group’s performed at five Super Bowls and a presidential inauguration. And often the simplest ideas are truest.

The American Dream is pretty simple: anyone, from any background, can through hard work and perseverance, rise and ultimately flourish. But if more people were for people, then that dream would come easier.

Let’s be more specific: If more of our state’s leaders were for people, there’d be a lot less people to worry about. Misguided policies and bowing to special interests make Illinois a tough place for people to move up.

According to a recent report by the Archbridge Institute, it’s tougher to get ahead in Illinois than in any other Midwestern state. Illinois is 11th-worst in the U.S. for upward mobility.

Business. The institute measured our state’s entrepreneurship and growth, ranking it 44th in the U.S. That’s not a good measure in a state where businesses with fewer than 50 employees created 45% of new net jobs, according to Census data. That was more than 51,000 jobs in 2022.

There were three aspects to the entrepreneurship and growth ranking, including regulation: Illinois was 32nd. Occupational licensing, state-level regulation stringency, minimum wage laws and residential land-use regulations were part of that. When the Mercatus Center looked at the issue, it found Illinois was one of the worst in the nation with over 279,000 instances of restrictive language in its administrative code.

Taxes was another growth factor, with Illinois ranked 46th. Illinois has the second-highest corporate tax rate in the country as of 2024. WalletHub found Illinois families pay the nation’s highest state and local tax burden, taking 15% of their incomes.

The third growth measure was business dynamism: 39th. It was a compilation of business startup rates, share of workers at firms less than five years old, growth in total firms, patents per 1,000 people, housing permits per 1,000 people, jobs created versus jobs lost, labor force participation rate and migration rate. The state has lost population for 10 years in a row, which likely drags down its ranking.

Government. Remember those politicians who we wish were for people? They are in the category where Illinois’ score really took a hit. For institutions and rule of law, the state ranked 48th. Part of that was government preying on its people through lots of fines and fees, mistrust and assumptions government is corrupt and civil asset forfeiture. Illinois ranks second-highest in its federal corruption rate since 1976, when the U.S. Department of Justice began collecting the data.

Illinois ranked 37th in judicial system quality, which evaluated access to an attorney, the ability to represent yourself, language barriers, disability access and fines and fees needed to use the court system. The quality of justice in the state liability system drags Illinois down – the state ranked dead last in the most recent Lawsuit Climate Survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform.

Education. At 27th in the nation, Illinois’ highest rank was in education and skills development. Part of that was education quality and freedom, which was 12th in the nation. The rank is measured by National Assessment of Educational Progress test score results for fourth and eighth grade, university quality, community college graduation rates, and finally school freedom. Hooray?  Not so fast: the school freedom score was thanks to the availability of tax-credit scholarship programs, which our state lawmakers killed in 2023 thanks to the cash and threats from teachers unions. Now there are a lot more little people to worry about.

The other education measure was of parents. Illinois ranked 34th in parent engagement and stability, gauged by the percentage of parents who reported reading to their child in the past week, parents’ attendance at children’s activities, frequency of family sharing a meal together and percent of births in the past year to unmarried women, and the share of households with single parents.

Social capital. Illinois ranked 30th in the nation in social capital, defined as “a measure of the networks of relationships held by people in society.” Illinois is 30th in the nation in community activities and neighbors, measured by community event attendance, member organizations per 1,000 people, percent of neighbors doing favors in the past year, and an economic connectedness index. For charity we were 29th, measured by donations of $25 or more, nonprofit organizations and religious congregations per 1,000 people, volunteerism and charity regulations.

Nowhere to go but up? Couple hard work and perseverance with more people for people, and that’s a pretty good way to get more Illinoisans climbing the social ladder. At the heart, up with people and the American Dream aren’t really about collective rather than the individual achievement: they are both. Illinois just got some pretty clear instructions on how to climb.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!