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Out-migration from Illinois hits six digits: State population loss leads nation

Number of people fleeing state each year hits six digits

Illustration by R. Scott Helmchen – shelmchen@shawmedia.com
Illustration by R. Scott Helmchen – shelmchen@shawmedia.com

The annual stream of people leaving Illinois for other states hit a new six-figure milestone last year, according to U.S. Census records.

For the first time, the annual loss of Illinois residents to outmigration exceeded 100,000 people, according to census data. About 105,200 more people left Illinois than arrived, according to census data released for the period between July 2014 and July 2015.

While an influx of 37,600 residents through international migration, and a natural population growth of 52,207 pared the Land of Lincoln’s total population loss to 22,194 people, Illinois still led all 50 states in population loss. At the same time, every other state in the Midwest showed a net population increase.

Census data from the previous 2013-2014 collection period also showed Illinois as the only Midwestern state to lose population, and was the first time since the 1980s that Illinois showed a net population loss, according to an analysis by the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University.

Only four other states lost population, according to census data, but Illinois’ loss was almost five times that of the first runner-up of West Virginia, which lost 4,623 during the same period.

New York was the only other state last year besides Illinois to show a six-digit population loss through outmigration. However, its natural population growth and international migration more than compensated for it, and the state showed a 46,933 net population increase.

A mix of factors are to blame, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. While Illinois’ terrible finances and politics are surely playing a role, so does weather and shifting demographic trends.

“I think it all works as kind of a package,” Yepsen said. “People don’t feel good about Illinois right now. They see the state as being on the wrong track. Maybe there’s a job opportunity somewhere else, or maybe the grandkids are someplace else.”

The ongoing seven-month budget stalemate in Springfield between Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is trying to leverage Democratic budget wishes with significant political and economic reforms, is only one small part of the state’s deep financial trouble.

Illinois has at least $111 billion in unfunded pension liability, not counting liability for health costs – about one dollar in four collected by the state is paying for public-sector pensions. The state also has the worst credit rating of all 50 states, and is hovering several notches above junk status.

Illinois’ ongoing plight is further spelled out by two Gallup polls released in early 2014. The polls, which were conducted months before the terrible “polar vortex” winter, revealed that one resident in four believes that Illinois is the worst state to live in, and that half of residents would leave if given the opportunity. And last year’s analysis by NIU casts a healthy skepticism on putting too much blame on the weather – most people moving out of Illinois are in fact settling in its neighboring states.

Census numbers are not the only ones showing a continued exodus from Illinois. Yet again, the annual survey from United Van Lines, the nation’s largest mover of household items, put Illinois near the top for more people moving out than moving in.

The Missouri-based company’s 39th annual survey released earlier this month showed that two-thirds of residential moves in Illinois were people leaving, putting it third behind New York and New Jersey. Fifty-four percent listed jobs as a prime reason for moving, while almost 20 percent listed retirement, which is telling to an extent because Illinois does not tax retirement income.

But while it’s easy to pin the increased flow of people out of Illinois on its sorry state of affairs, Yepsen said it is part of a long and ongoing trend of people moving out of the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. The most recent Census estimates bear that out – the 10 states with the most people inbound are southern and western states.

While lawmakers can’t legislate the weather, Yepsen said there are many steps they can take to slow down the flow of people leaving for better opportunities.

“It can be reversed, but the first thing we have to do is look at those states that are growing, particularly in our region. Let’s look at the neighboring states. What are they doing that’s different?” Yepsen said.

Separate U.S. Census data has shown that McHenry County has lost population, as well. The county in 2014 had an estimated net loss of 1,477 residents, which was the second straight year that the population dipped. In both years, the other collar counties of Lake, DuPage, Kane and Will showed population increases.

By the numbers

• 105,217 – the number of Illinois residents who moved out of state between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015.

• 22,194 – the state’s total population loss when births and international migration are factored.

• 1 – Illinois places first when it comes to net population loss.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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