McHenry County’s population had a fourth straight year of decline last year, according to newly released U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Estimates released Thursday place the county’s 2014 population at 307,283, or 1,477 fewer than its official 2010 Census figure of 308,760. Put one way, that dip represents less than one half of one percent of the county’s total population. Put another way, the loss is equivalent to every last resident of Hebron and Greenwood packing up and leaving.
And put yet another way, McHenry County again was the only collar county to lose population last year. Lake, Will, DuPage and Kane counties gained residents.
Like last year, when estimates showed a decline, local leaders are not yet raising an alarm, but said potential reasons for the decline merit further scrutiny. The 2013 estimate released last year showed a decline of 1,351 residents from the last decennial U.S. Census.
Former McHenry County Board chairman and current state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said he believes a number of factors are playing a role, not the least of which is the state’s ongoing out-migration.
“There’s the fact that we’re losing manufacturing jobs and we’re seeing people retire and leave Illinois. … If you look at the state demographics, people are leaving,” Tryon said.
But while Tryon said he is “kind of dumbfounded” the county is losing people, state Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, said she is not at all surprised. She blames high property taxes, and a lack of high-paying, nearby jobs compared with the other collar counties.
“Our property taxes are prohibitive when it comes to keeping people within our county," Althoff said. "I’ve had conversations with many constituents who literally come in and show me that their monthly [property tax] is higher than their monthly mortgage bill."
The county exploded with growth over two decades, fueled by a housing boom that also made up a significant part of the county’s economic engine. The population increased by more than 40 percent from 183,241 people in 1990 to just over 260,000 in 2000. The 18.7 percent population increase from 2000 to 2010, blunted by the 2007-2008 housing market crash, was the lowest decennial percentage increase since the end of World War II.
But while McHenry County has lost residents since 2010, other collar counties have seen increases. Kane County has gained 12,037 people, DuPage has gained 15,784, Will has gained 7,859, and Lake has gained 1,724. Cook County’s population of 5.24 million is up from 5.19 million in 2010, but dipped slightly by 179 people from last year, according to estimates.
In his State of the County Address earlier this year, County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, touched on the population decline as a call to action to improve the county’s economic vitality. Had the housing market not tanked, Gottemoller said, another 24,000 households would be here today on top of the 108,000 households reported by the Census.
“You’re talking another quarter of our population not here,” Gottemoller said.
Althoff and Gottemoller said transportation is an issue that affects McHenry County more than the other collar counties. McHenry County has no direct access to the interstate highway system and one Metra line, meaning people may be moving closer to the city to ease that commute time.
“Really, we’re tied to the whole region, but we’re not tied as tightly,” Gottemoller said.
Thursday’s estimates are broken down by county and by metropolitan and micropolitan regions. Population estimates for 2014 for municipalities will be released later this year.