Why are people leaving Illinois?

“There’s no place like home.”

In the Wizard of Oz Dorothy uttered this timeless phrase over and over until she was miraculously transported back to Kansas.

That said, these days the statement doesn’t hold much water in the neighboring state of Illinois.

In fact, Illinois’ population has been declining for the better part of the last decade, and only California and New York are losing more residents.

Conservatives typically blame the outflow on high taxes, runaway debt, underfunded public pensions, and rampant crime in and around Chicago.

On the other hand, most Democrats believe that the problem stems from insufficient investment in everything from education and infrastructure to healthcare and job training.

Surprisingly, they may both be right.

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Illinois’ mass flight by the numbers

Though statistics vary, there’s no denying that the number of people leaving the state is on the rise, and thanks to low birth rates, population decline may be the new norm.

Ironically, between 2009 and 2013 Illinois’ population actually increased slightly, but since 2014 the state may have lost as many as 1.8 million residents or about 15% of the total population

US Census Department data shows that in 2021 alone more than 100,000 residents bid Illinois adieu.

This marked the largest single-year departure in the state’s history and even worse, wire points estimate that these voluntarily displaced Illinoisans took about $6 billion in taxable income with them.

Many relocated to nearby states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana, while others opted for Texas, Arizona, and Florida which have collectively experienced the largest influxes of new residents.

Did you know?

Due to its declining population, after the most recent census, Illinois lost a seat in the US House of Representatives.

The Governor’s take on Illinois’ declining population

Illinois has always had a well-deserved reputation for bitter partisanship and inherent corruption, and when JB Pritzker became governor in 2019 he inherited a proverbial basket case.

Representatives from previous administrations, privately funded think tanks, public unions, and various special interests have historically been unable or unwilling to tackle the state’s biggest problems, and the situation doesn’t seem to be improving.

But though they can’t agree on how to remedy the dire situation, nearly everyone concedes that the state’s biggest problems include –

  • Balancing the budget
  • Paying down debt
  • Addressing $100 billion in unfunded public pensions
  • Reducing crime
  • Attracting businesses

Governor Pritzker claims he can address Illinois’ most pressing issues while honoring commitments to state workers.

However, as political opponents like to point out, this “have your cake and eat it too” approach hasn’t worked in the past and probably won’t as the crisis worsens.

High taxes in the Land of Lincoln

In recent polls nearly 50% of Illinois residents said they were considering moving to another state, and most cited high taxes as a huge factor.

According to Biechele-Royce Advisors, Illinois has the ninth highest overall taxes in the nation.

Property taxes in Illinois are the second-highest in America, and based on the state’s median home value of approximately $170,000, the average homeowner pays about $4,000 per year on top of their mortgage.

Collectively state and local taxes average nearly 9%, and in some municipalities, they top 10%.

Illinois politicians, lawmakers, accountants, and public policy gurus have been debating how to handle the country’s largest state budget deficit for decades.

Raising taxes, cutting public services, and significantly increasing the contributions public workers make to their pensions may be necessary, but few have the stomach to enact such draconian measures, and even if they did, they’d probably hasten the flight even further.

Newsflash – crime in Chicago is out of control

Since the days of Al Capone Chicago has been a notoriously tough city, but last year was the deadliest in the last quarter-century.

According to Chicago PD statistics, in 2021 there were –

  • 797 homicides (about 300 more than 2019)
  • 3,500+ “shooting incidents”

Though larger by population, both New York and Los Angeles have recorded far fewer homicides in recent years.

Sadly, Chicago’s percapita murder rate is among the nation’s highest, despite Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s claim that each year more guns are confiscated there than in any other city.

Lack of suitable housing and job opportunities are fueling the outmigration

In many parts of Illinois, safe, affordable housing isn’t particularly easy to find.

In addition, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2007 and the present the state lost approximately 150,000 manufacturing jobs.

As a result, many residents (and their families) who’d once lived in vibrant neighborhoods and had jobs with good salaries and benefits are now trapped in a death spiral of urban decay, limited job prospects, and soaring crime.

Gentrification is also a persistent problem in the Chicago area.

As new parts of the city that were once largely, working-class become popular with younger more educated workers, rents and prices rise.

Unfortunately, this pushes many struggling families into less desirable parts of the city, and those who can often choose to leave the state altogether.

The demographics – who’s leaving Illinois?

Asians and Pacific Islanders are on the move

Between 2014 and 2018 the majority of residents leaving Illinois were Caucasians, but that’s no longer the case.

In recent years, nearly 20% were Pacific Islanders and people of Asian descent, while the number of Caucasians dropped during the same period.

Their reasons for leaving include –

  • High taxes
  • Rising real estate prices
  • Crime
  • Poor job and educational opportunities
  • Cold winters

The elderly are leaving in greater numbers too

In the good old days, many retirees wintered in warm states like Florida and Arizona, but they generally preferred to reside in Illinois for much of the year.

In the early years of the great Illinois exodus, most residents who left were between 20 and 35-years-old.

Since about 2014 however, more older folks have joined them, including those 65 and older living off pensions and small nest eggs for whom pinching pennies is a necessity.

Sadly, in most cases, older people are model citizens compared to their younger counterparts.

They tend to live more stable lives, commit far fewer crimes and spend significant portions of their incomes in the community, so losing them is a particularly bad omen.

Those with college degrees see more opportunity elsewhere

In the past few years, the rate at which college-educated residents have been leaving Illinois has increased by more than 30%.

Illinois used to be a manufacturing powerhouse, but many of those coveted jobs are long gone as well, and they’ve largely been replaced by menial service jobs with low pay and poor (or no) benefits.

The job market is hot sectors like tech, healthcare, and finance remains strong, but the state’s relatively high cost of living, rising crime, and brutally cold winters can be big deal breakers for some considering relocating to Illinois.

Big earners and high net worth individuals have had enough

Decades ago when manufacturing positions began disappearing, low and middle-income families were among the first to leave for better opportunities.

Now however, the rate at which high-income individuals and households are leaving is increasing more dramatically, especially among Chicago residents.

Not surprisingly, these folks are more mobile, have more job prospects, and are less likely to put up with conditions they find unpleasant or downright oppressive.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped either

Figures recently released by the US Census Bureau show that the continuing coronavirus situation has increased the rate at which residents are leaving Illinois.

Since working from home is becoming the norm for some white-collar workers, many have chosen to relocate to states in which their salaries will stretch farther.

In addition, according to Chicago’s official website, as of January 3, 2022 individuals five years of age and older must present proof of full vaccination to –

  • Dine indoors
  • Visit gyms
  • Attend entertainment venues that serve food and/or drinks

Nearly all states have some mandates in place, but especially with the advent of Omicron, many Illinois residents would rather live in states with more lax restrictions.

For a comprehensive list of COVID-19 vaccination mandates by state, check out this article from Leading Age.

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