The Policy Shop: Pritzker gaslights, Illinoisans step on the gas

The Policy Shop: Pritzker gaslights, Illinoisans step on the gas

This edition of The Policy Shop is by Director of Fiscal and Economic Research Bryce Hill.

Illinois leaders question whether Illinois was a loser in 2020, but it certainly is a loser now.

Population deniers in Springfield, cheered on by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, claimed from the start Illinois did not lose population in the decade before 2020. They used a sampling intended to gauge the accuracy of the 2020 count to initially make the claim Illinois grew by 250,000 – a claim that’s since evaporated from the governor’s talking points. Now a reassessment of how well people in group quarters were counted has added 46,400 to the 2020 count.

Instead of losing 18,000 Illinoisans from 2010 to 2020, the new review found 46,400 uncounted people. Strike up the band: Illinois grew, Pritzker says.

But there’s a sour note: even though we now know the 2020 count was flawed – not surprising considering it was conducted during a pandemic – chances are instead of proving Illinois grew, it only proved the 2010 count missed a lot of folks and was even more flawed. Census estimates and other counts and surveys by the IRS and moving companies all show Illinois is losing people because people are moving away.

And that’s a reality politicians want to deny because they are the reason people are leaving Illinois.

Voting with their feet. The Census Bureau continues to estimate Illinois’ population is in decline, falling by nearly 264,000 residents since the 2020 Census. The drop in population has been entirely driven by domestic outmigration – 364,443 Illinoisans fleeing to other states – as the state’s policy environment continues to push residents away.

Illinois has had 10 years of population loss – the second-longest streak in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Of the Illinoisans who leave the state on net, 97% moved to lower-tax states in 2022 – the most recent data available. Historically, high taxes have been the No. 1 reason Illinoisans considered leaving the state. Polling from NPR Illinois and the University of Illinois found 61% of Illinoisans thought about moving out of state in 2019, and the No. 1 reason was taxes. The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found 47% of Illinoisans wanted to leave the state in 2016. It also found “taxes are the single biggest reason people want to leave,” with 27% citing that motive. More recent polling conducted by Echelon Insights in 2023 substantiated these sentiments.

Moving vans. Besides 10 years of declining census estimates, a company that moves people just said Illinois was No. 2 in the nation for the ratio of residents moving out and finding a new state in 2023. That survey by moving company United Van Lines found the resident exodus in Illinois made up 61.3% of total migration, and only 38.7% of those moving were inbound. New Jersey took the nation’s top spot for outbound percentage at 64.9%.

The No. 1 reason United Van Lines was given for people leaving Illinois was jobs, with more than one-quarter of respondents listing it as a primary reason ahead of family and retirement. Housing and employment opportunities have both been made worse by poor public policy in Illinois.

Over half of outbound Illinoisans in the survey made $150,000 or more. Wealthier residents have the fewest barriers to moving. That leaves lower-income Illinoisans to pay Illinois’ tax burden, including the second-highest property taxes in the nation.

United Van Lines also compiled data on the top 50, most-populated metropolitan areas. Chicago had the second-highest outbound rate at 62.8%, behind only Detroit.

More movers. The IRS and two major moving companies all found in 2022 that more people were moving out of Illinois than into the state. Because birth and death rates virtually offset each other, people moving out of the state was the main driver of Illinois population change.

The real lesson of the 2020 census was that Illinois was poorly counted in 2010, with a lot of people missed.

Because of the pandemic, the 2020 Census had very different outreach efforts and methodology. Residents in 2020 could report their household counts online. There were multiple languages. Virtual and digital outreach was common in the 2020 Census, with nearly double the 2010 advertising dollars and outreach in 47 languages.

Still, the 2020 count had errors, such as finding the 46,400 people in group homes nearly four years later.

Forest for trees. Illinois politicians will likely be contesting the state population until and after the 2030 count. It makes for a fun political game that is sort-of the opposite of tag.

But here’s the number that should wake Pritzker in the wee hours: 364,443 Illinoisans decided they no longer wanted to live here, just since 2020. There is no stronger message they could send that they disapprove of how the state’s politicians are treating them, their taxes, their jobs and houses.

Finding 46,400 after four years of arguing kind of pales against losing 364,443.

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