The march of the millennials – out of Illinois

The march of the millennials – out of Illinois

Illinois lost as many as 37,000 millennials on net every year from 2011 through 2014 for a total net loss of as many as 148,000 millennials.

With this time of year comes the sound of stretched packing tape and whimpering goodbyes, as students head off to college campuses. Boundless ambition and bittersweet pride mix with exhaust fumes as young folks motor away.

But there’s a problem here.

More and more often, those collegiate destinations are outside Illinois. And those college-bound millennials are not the only young people leaving the state.

One of the most important indicators of future growth is the inflow of young, hungry, educated talent. Lose it at your peril. Illinois is losing it.

Illinois lost as many as 37,000 millennials on net every year from 2011 through 2014 for a total net loss of as many as 148,000 millennials – including millennial taxpayers and their dependents and millennial college students – according to the most recent available data from the IRS and the National Center for Education Statistics.

In other words, a four-year period may have wrought a millennial exodus roughly the size of Rockford.

These are people who will climb the career ladders of tomorrow and begin to dominate the labor force. They’ll have kids. They’ll buy homes. They’ll increasingly form the fabric of our communities.

But they’re being wooed elsewhere. And that’s hurting those who remain.

The U.S. Census Bureau tracks new housing permits as a key economic indicator. Illinois was averaging more than 40,000 permits for new, single-family homes per year before the Great Recession.

But in 2016, the state issued just over 10,000 of those permits. That 75 percent nosedive is the worst in the nation. And the numbers for multifamily housing aren’t much better.

A lack of young families – Illinois is the nation’s second-biggest net loser of both millennial taxpayers and their dependents, and millennial college students – might help explain this phenomenon.

But can you blame those who are leaving?

There’s little reason to plant roots in a barren economy. Illinois is a national laggard in income growth and jobs growth. And the state’s massive debt is a yoke on the young who had no role in creating it. Not to mention the student loan debt one often must take on to attend college in Illinois.

As Illinois’ higher education system diverts more and more dollars away from the classroom toward administrative coffers and pensions, in-state tuition at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was more expensive last year than any neighboring state’s flagship university – by far.

To be sure, Chicago can continue to draw young, white-collar professionals. The Loop won’t empty out anytime soon. But the numbers indicate that’s not enough to balance out thousands of millennial losses felt elsewhere.

Growth is golden. Illinois doesn’t have enough of it. State lawmakers, a few of whom are millennials themselves, need to start pushing pro-growth policies that have seen success in surrounding states.

The future depends on it.

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