The new 2020 Census numbers were released this week, and any way you cut them, they were miserable for Illinois. The state’s population dropped by 18,000 over the last decade, and Illinois’ influence in national politics fell with the loss of another U.S. House seat. Illinois was one of just three states in the country
The new 2020 Census numbers were released this week, and any way you cut them, they were miserable for Illinois. The state’s population dropped by 18,000 over the last decade, and Illinois’ influence in national politics fell with the loss of another U.S. House seat. Illinois was one of just three states in the country to lose population.
While the population loss was far lower than the Census Bureau’s previous estimates of about 250,000, the overall situation of this state remains unchanged. Illinois continues to be an extreme outlier nationally when it comes to population losses.
The less-than-expected population loss also doesn’t change the reality that Illinois is still bleeding tens of thousands of people and their incomes to other states each year. The fact that Illinois shrank overall means the state lost more people to out-migration over the decade than it gained from its natural increase (births minus deaths) and net international immigration.
Unsurprisingly, some are downplaying just how bad the situation is. Others are taking in the census news with a sigh of relief, largely because Illinois could have lost two Congressional seats but gave up only one. And yet others, like Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said the census data “exceeded expectations.”
Nothing in the census release grants any of that optimism. Let’s look at the facts:
1. Illinois was trounced by other states in the competition for people
Illinois was one of only three states to lose population over the decade. Overall, the country’s entire population increased by 22.7 million, or 7.4 percent. A few states even garnered millions of people. Texas gained 4 million (up 15.9%) while Florida added about 2.7 million (14.6%).
On the other extreme, the census shows Illinois was an outlier nationally, spared only by West Virginia (-59,000) from ending up in last place. The other state to join the losers was Mississippi (-6,000).
2. Illinois is experiencing significant out-migration
The fact that Illinois didn’t grow in population means that the amount of people leaving Illinois over the decade exceeded the state’s natural increase (births minus deaths) and net international immigration.
According to previous census estimates, Illinois’ net natural increase averaged about 50,000 people a year since 2010. Another 25,000 a year came from net international migration, meaning Illinois’ population was growing naturally by about 75,000 people annually, or 750,000 over the decade.
For Illinois to have shrunk in population over the decade as it did, the state had to have lost, on net, about 75,000 people each year to other states.
That amount of out-migration is basically confirmed by data from the Internal Revenue Service, which tracks actual income-tax filings to measure the annual migration of taxpayers between states. In all, the IRS data shows Illinois lost a net 645,000 tax filers and their dependents to other states between 2010 and 2018.
Those filers took their incomes with them, and if you add up all the lost income, Illinois’ losses in adjusted gross income total
$137 billion over the period. That’s money that could have been taxed, now gone forever.
3. Illinois’ population problem is broad
Pritzker is trying to pin the population losses largely on college students and higher-education costs.
While he’s right that Illinois has had a massive brain drain when it comes to students — the New York Times documented those losses here — the state’s decline hasn’t been limited to students.
Illinois is losing virtually every demographic to other states. Both young and old, rich and poor are leaving Illinois on a net basis. Since 2012, Illinois has lost more people to out-migration than it has gained from in-migration in every single major age and income bracket, according to the IRS migration data.
4. Cold weather? Forget it.
The traditional excuse for Illinois’ losses — that masses of retirees move away because of bad weather — is also negated by the data.
The freezing state of Minnesota grew by almost 400,000, or 7.6 percent, for the decade. That’s ahead of the 7.4 percent average for the entire country.
And all of Illinois’ neighboring states — even the cold-weather ones — grew over the same period that Illinois shrank. Wisconsin added 206,000 people while Indiana added another 300,000, up 3.6 and 4.7 percent, respectively.
4. The system is working as intended
Illinois’ drop in the congressional delegation now leaves the state with just 17 seats, far below the 27 it had at its peak. The state’s influence is waning nationally, a sign of Illinois’ failure to attract people and businesses.
While that’s bad news for Illinois — the state’s power and clout are waning — the “redistribution” of congressional representation is working as intended. Illinois, with its failed policies, is losing representation.
Meanwhile, states like Florida and Texas that attract millions with pro-growth policies are growing in representation.
It’s a voluntary form of redistribution that’s working as intended.
5. Illinois’ 2020 push may have swayed result
We’ll never know how much Illinois’ push to lift up the census numbers in 2020 affected the results, but the state’s efforts shouldn’t be ignored. Were the lower-than-expected population losses a result of the Census’ poor intercensal estimates, or due to a successful campaign by Illinois to increase participation in 2020 compared to 2010?
Politico’s Illinois Playbook noted that Pritzker pointed to a “boots on the ground” effort that “included 400 organizations, coordinated by 31 ‘regional intermediaries.’ It was all fueled by $47.8 million in funding.”
Naysayers of Illinois’ population problem are failing to correlate it with the host of other metrics where the state is a national outlier.
Illinois has the most pension debt of any state, the worst credit rating, the highest property taxes, some of the worst-performing property values, and more.
To reverse its shrinkage, Illinois must embrace broad, comprehensive reforms of the kind Illinois’ political establishment refuses to consider. But one thing is clear: Denial — about population or any of Illinois’ other problems — fixes nothing.
Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner are analysts for Wirepoints.com, a website devoted to research and commentary about Illinois’ economy and government.
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