Pritzker fact check: Illinois population isn’t ‘booming’

Pritzker fact check: Illinois population isn’t ‘booming’

A Census survey intended to estimate the accuracy of the 2020 Census is being used to project an Illinois population increase. While there may be more Illinoisans than originally thought, that does not mean they aren’t leaving at an accelerating pace.

Gov. J.B Pritzker used a new Census survey to claim Illinois added 250,000 residents since 2010, but just because there might be more Illinoisans than originally thought does not mean residents aren’t rapidly moving away.

Other Census estimates, other federal data and studies from moving van companies show Illinoisans are leaving for better jobs, more affordable housing and lower taxes. Fixing those issues to stop the departures is much harder than misusing Census data to deny there is a problem.

Pritzker used a Census survey intended to gauge the accuracy of the 2020 Census head count to claim Illinois gained 250,000 residents in a decade and that the population topped 13 million.

“I look forward to celebrating this development with all Illinoisans, including those who routinely badmouth our state,” he said in a press statement.

In reality, the Post Enumeration Survey, which is conducted after each decennial census, found Illinois’ 2020 household population was undercounted by 1.97%. It uses a sample of households, excluding those in group living arrangements, and projects the accuracy of the head count based on that survey.

Yes, the 2020 Census likely should have recorded a higher population than it did. Yes, that number might be higher than the 2010 head count.

But the main takeaways are far from what Pritzker claims. Here’s what we know:

  • Illinoisans are leaving. The U.S. Census each year estimates the Illinois population through what it calls the Population Estimates Program. It resets after each Census, and uses the head count and other federal data on births, deaths and moves to estimate the population each year. The 2021 estimate showed the largest population decline in Illinois history.
  • Other studies show Illinoisans are leaving. The IRS and two major moving companies all found more people continue to move out of Illinois than into the state. Because birth and death rates virtually offset each other, people moving out of the state is the main driver of Illinois population change.
  • The 2020 count was likely better than the 2010 count, and found more of the people who were actually here. Because of the pandemic, the 2020 Census had very different outreach efforts and methodology. Residents 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.

No matter how you slice the data, Illinois is still a loser by one major measure: It is losing a congressional seat. Other states are gaining faster than Illinois, if Illinois is gaining at all.

Pritzker and state lawmakers may want to ignore the fact that people are voting with their feet because it’s easier to campaign that way. It’s easier than explaining support for public policies that created a hostile jobs climate that has Illinois lagging the national recovery, the nation’s second-highest property taxes making houses unaffordable and the nation’s highest state and local tax burden driven by out-of-control public pensions and a state pension debt of $313 billion.

Illinois politicians need to face and fix their tax addictions. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in recovery.

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