People are leaving Illinois in droves. Republicans blame the state’s high taxes and its unfunded pension liability, which tops $130 billion. Democrats believe it’s the state’s lack of investment in education and infrastructure.
One thing is certain: Illinois’ population has declined by 157,000 residents over the past five years, making it one of only two states — West Virginia is the other — to lose people over the past decade.
Illinois’ predicament is a perfect storm of declining manufacturing, stagnant immigration, declining birth rates, young people leaving for college and never coming back, long-standing economic discrimination against black residents, high housing costs, and the continued draw of residents to the Sun Belt.
What’s happening in the Prairie State may offer national lessons about the deindustrialized economy and how that creates inequity issues in wages and housing, said Matthew Wilson, a senior research specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute.
For a Rust Belt state to thrive, Wilson said, officials have to focus on retaining and growing its manufacturing sector by training workers, providing affordable housing and attracting new businesses. Building up the manufacturing sector has to go hand in hand with attracting high-paying jobs, he said.
Illinois has struggled with all of that.
A 2016 poll by Southern Illinois University found that nearly half of Illinois residents wanted to move to another state, citing taxes, weather, ineffective and corrupt local government and a lack of middle-class jobs. A March poll from the university found that two-thirds of Illinois residents think the state is going in the wrong direction.
Between 2017 and 2018, 114,000 more residents left Illinois than moved in from other states. Those who left mostly moved to Florida, Texas and Indiana, IRS data shows.
Chicago’s population has dropped slightly, largely because black residents are leaving for areas with lower housing costs and more jobs that don’t require higher education. In downstate Illinois, the population loss has come largely from a decrease in manufacturing jobs.
Nearly 15 miles south of the famed Magnificent Mile in the booming downtown Loop is another stretch of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Up until the 1980s, this part of the Roseland neighborhood was “the place to be” for black residents, lined with stores and restaurants. But many of those are gone now, leaving only the boarded-up facades and a distant memory.
As Abraham Lacy drove down the street earlier this month, the new father and Chicago resident described the “heart-wrenching” state of the area since its decline began 50 years ago.
This was a manufacturing hub. But those jobs are gone. Nearly 28% of the population lives below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.