Upward mobility tougher in Illinois than in rest of Midwest, most of U.S.
Illinois ranked 40th overall and the worst in the Midwest for social mobility, a new report found.
The American Dream is that anyone from any background can, through hard work and perseverance, rise and ultimately flourish. That’s harder in Illinois.
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.
The report considered four factors:
(1) entrepreneurship and growth.
(2) institutions and rule of law.
(2) education and skills development.
(4) social capital.
Illinois ranks in the bottom half for each of these four factors. But despite the state’s low ranking, the report also provides a guide for how to improve social mobility. Building on research on inequality and economic mobility comparing the U.S. to 21 other countries, the Archbridge Institute found the four factors were associated with greater economic mobility and lower income inequality. Many of these factors can be improved by state and local policy. If the state can address these four factors, it can revitalize the American Dream for all Illinoisans.
Entrepreneurship and growth
Illinois ranked 44th in nation in entrepreneurship and growth, based on measures of regulation, taxes and business dynamism.
Illinois ranked 32nd in regulation, measured by occupational licensing, state-level regulation stringency, minimum wage laws and residential land-use regulations. The low ranking tracks with data collected by the Mercatus Center: Illinois has more than 279,000 instances of restrictive language in its administrative code. That’s more than 44 other states and the District of Columbia. When it comes to occupational licensing, the Archbridge Institute ranked Illinois much better at the sixth-least burdened in the country based on a survey of over 340 professions.
The Archbridge ranking of total professions contrasts with that of low-income professions by the Institute for Justice. In that regard, the state is merely middle of the Midwestern pack. At $14 per hour, Illinois has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, and data collected by the Fraser Institute puts Illinois at 16th-most costly in terms of minimum wage.
Illinois ranked 46th in tax policy, or fifth worst in the nation, according to the report and as measured by corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and unemployment insurance taxes. As of 2022, the Tax Foundation ranked Illinois seventh in the nation when it comes to state and local tax burden, and the state has the second-highest corporate tax rate in the country as of 2024.
Illinois ranked 39th for business dynamism, measured by core startup rate, 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, reallocation rate – or jobs created versus jobs lost, labor force participation rate and migration rate. While Illinois’ 2023 labor force participation rate was above the national rate, it’s still much lower than it was at its peak in 2000. And the state has lost population for 10 years in a row, which likely drags down its ranking.
Institutions and rule of law
At 48th, or third-worst in the nation, Illinois’ lowest marks were on the assessment of institutions and its rule of law. This ranking breaks down into predatory state action and judicial system quality.
Predatory state action
This ranking factors in (1) total fines and fees collected by local governments, (2) the perception of corruption, (3) use of civil asset forfeiture. Illinois ranked 49th, or second worst in the nation in predatory state action. The report uses measures from Corruption in America surveys, but also, when excluding the District of Columbia, Illinois ranks second-worst in federal corruption convictions since 1976, when the U.S. Department of Justice began collecting the data.
Judicial system quality
Illinois ranked 37th in judicial system quality, evaluating access to justice and the quality of the state liability system. Access to justice measured the (1) access to an attorney, (2) self-representation, (3) language access, (4) disability access, and (5) fines and fees needed to access the court system. Illinois ranks eighth best, according to National Center for Access to Justice’s Justice Index. 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 and skills development
At 27th in the nation, Illinois’ highest rank was in education and skills development, which consists of (1) education quality and freedom and (2) parent engagement and stability.
Education quality and freedom
One of the bright spots in the report is Illinois’ ranking for education quality and freedom. At 12th in the nation, it is the state’s best-ranked metric and the only one ranked in the top half of the country. 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. As of 2022, Illinois scored slightly above the national average in math and reading at both the fourth- and eighth-grade level.
One of the factors in school freedom was the availability of tax-credit scholarship programs in the state. With the elimination of Illinois’ only school choice program in 2024, there is a good chance the state will drop in future rankings if it does not reinstate Invest in Kids or another school choice program.
Parent engagement and stability
Illinois ranked 34th in parent engagement and stability, gaged 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.
Illinois ranked 30th in the nation in social capital, defined as “a measure of the networks of relationships held by people in society.” The report breaks this down into (1) community activities and neighbors and (2) charity. The report ranks Illinois 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. Meanwhile, the state ranked 29th in charity, measured by donations of $25 or more, nonprofit organizations and religious congregations per 1,000 people, volunteerism and charity regulations.
Illinois’ policies are denying its residents the opportunity to live out the American Dream – and its social mobility rankings detail how. There is no reason the state cannot become a beacon of hope and prosperity for the Midwest. These ranking provide a guide to reviving that dream, and by reducing the barriers to work and job creation in the state, by addressing corruption and unfairness in the system, and by giving every Illinoisan the opportunity for a quality education from elementary to higher education, Illinois can make sure everyone has the opportunity to rise and prosper.