Census: 10 Illinois metro areas lose population as Illinoisans move to other states

March 27, 2022

Chicago, Danville and Decatur see among nation’s worst population declines


CONTACT: Melanie Krakauer (312) 607-4977

Census: 10 Illinois metro areas lose population as Illinoisans move to other states
Chicago, Danville and Decatur see among nation’s worst population declines

CHICAGO (March 26, 2022) – Illinois’ population decline reached record levels in 2021. During the year, population loss hit nearly all areas of the state, as 81 of Illinois’ 102 counties and 10 of the state’s 14 metropolitan areas saw net drops, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

An analysis from the Illinois Policy Institute found Illinois outmigration hit all-time highs from July 2020 to July 2021 and the population decline was driven entirely by Illinoisans moving to other states.

The largest decline was from the Chicago-Naperville-Evanston metropolitan division, which ranked third worst nationally for total raw population decline. It lost over 92,000 residents, and was fourth worst nationally for population decline as a percentage of population. Out of 384 U.S. metropolitan areas, Decatur experienced the ninth-worst population decline as a percentage. Danville saw the 12th-worst population decline as a share of total population.

“Illinoisans have historically chosen to leave the state for better housing and employment opportunities, both of which have been made worse by poor public policy in Illinois. Population decline also contributes to the lower economic prospects of the state, which can lead to a continuous downward spiral,” said Bryce Hill, senior research analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Institute experts point out metro areas that lost population also saw lagging job recoveries, with the bulk of the state’s missing jobs coming from Chicago. It accounted for 125,900 of the state’s missing 200,100 jobs in January compared to pre-pandemic levels. Bloomington, the only metropolitan area in the state to fully recover to pre-pandemic employment levels, was one of the few metros to avoid population decline in 2021.

“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,” Hill said. “Illinois needs reform that will rein in the state’s cost drivers and deliver services to residents in exchange for their tax dollars.”

Takeaways from the Illinois Policy Institute analysis: 

  • Nationally, the Chicago area saw the fourth worst outmigration to other states in the nation, behind New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, Austin and San Bernardino saw the largest migration gains.
  • 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.
  • Danville and Decatur ranked the second- and third-least recovered metros in the state in terms of employment. They performed equally as poorly when it came to population decline in 2021.

To read the full analysis of the latest U.S. Census release, visit: illin.is/metrocensus

For bookings or interviews, contact media@illinoispolicy.org or (312) 607-4977.