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Metro areas’ population losses symptomatic of statewide trend

Big-number loss in Cook County, Sauk Valley lower

SPRINGFIELD – Census numbers released Thursday show that for the first time in 7 years, every major metropolitan area in the state saw population decline between July 2017 and July 2018.

The numbers give a county and metro-area look at population changes, and provide more detail on the statewide numbers the Census Bureau released for the same time period last December, which showed Illinois lost about 45,000 that year.

To Bryce Hill, research analyst at the conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute, the detailed numbers released Thursday are no shock.

“This is something that was expected,” Hill said. “But it is concerning that all of the state’s metro areas are losing population.”

According to Hill’s analysis, most of the population loss is due to outmigration – more people leaving the state than arriving.

The Chicago metro area, which extends beyond Cook County into the collar counties and parts of southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Indiana, had the greatest raw number decline of more than 22,000 people.

In Cook County alone, more than 24,000 people left.

Hill said the reason Cook County had a greater loss than the surrounding metro area is because of a continuing, longtime trend of people moving from the city to the nearby suburbs.

While the population drop of 970 people in the Danville metro area was smaller by comparison, it was the fourth worst decline of any metro area in the country at 1.25 percent.

In all, only 16 of Illinois’ 102 counties saw population increases. A few of them, like Grundy (359), Monroe (176), and Jasper (71), are downstate, which Hill attributed to the natural result of births still outpacing deaths in those areas, rather than people moving there.

In most other places, Hill said, the gap between births and deaths is closing, and migration into Illinois is not enough to make up for the people leaving.

“As the population ages,” Hill said, “outmigration is going to become a bigger and bigger issue.” 

While the Policy Institute cited the recent numbers as signs of Illinois’ poor labor market, high tax burden and reckless spending, others say the reasons for population shifts are more complicated. 

“The problem of fixing outmigration is different depending on where you are,” said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “If we mechanize farming and lose manufacturing downstate, that’s a different issue than dealing with gentrification in northeastern Illinois, for example.”

While admitting the trend is concerning, Redfield added that no single solution will fix the population problem.

“To say that if we adopted Florida’s tax structure, both downstate and metro areas would suddenly turn around – it’s much more complicated than that,” he said.

Population changes in the state will also affect the outcome of the 2020 census count, on which rides billions of dollars in federal funding and the number of congressional seats for Illinois. 

Redfield said, based on current census estimations, at least one congressional seat will be lost, and it will likely come out of southern Illinois.

Editor’s note: Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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