When he takes office in January, Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker will have fewer constituents than he might have expected. Unfortunately, he’ll also have fewer constituents working and paying taxes to support Illinois’ state and local governments. Every time a worker departs, the tax burden on those of us who remain grows.
The release last week of new census data about Illinois was alarming: Not only has the flight of residents continued for a fifth straight year, but the population loss is intensifying. This year’s estimated net reduction of 45,116 residents is the worst of these 5 losing years.
This is terrible news for House Speaker Michael Madigan and his cronies who in recent decades have steered the Illinois General Assembly toward higher taxes, rising public debt and anti-business policies that discourage employers from locating, expanding or just keeping their workforces here. Residents fed up with the economic climate here are heading for less taxaholic, jobs-friendlier states.
The new numbers confront Democrats who’ve run the Legislature – and who keep raising taxes – with realities they’ll wiggle to explain but can’t deny: As the nation’s population expands, the populations of Illinois and eight other states are declining. On their watch, an Illinois once revered as a land of opportunity now is in decline.
More ominously, every other state in the Midwest is growing.
The most important numbers in the new federal statistics involve domestic migration – the number of people leaving Illinois for other states, such as Texas, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The trend was bad again this year, with some 114,000 people departing – about the same as last year. Those are individuals and households who decided they have a better future elsewhere, or who have given up on Illinois and are, effectively, fleeing.
Why are so many people departing? Certainly some leave because they don’t like winter weather, or summer humidity, we suppose. But the trail out West or to down South is well worn. There’s nothing new about Sun Belt migration, and indeed, the story in Illinois is that for decades a steady, fairly predictable number of Illinois residents left for other places. Over the past few decades, about 65,000 more people voluntarily left the state each year than arrived. It was neither shocking nor worrisome.
The change came in 2014. That year, with the Great Recession well over, the domestic migration shortfall jumped from 68,204 to 93,704. The negative number jumped again in 2015 (106,544) and again in 2016 (109,941). In 2017, more exodus: 114,779. And now in 2018, Illinois lost another 114,154 people. If you’ve read our editorials about what we call the “Illinois Exodus,” you’ve met many of these people and absorbed their families’ stories. They include young people who will build their futures elsewhere, far from the families who raised them and hoped to keep them close.
Many of them left because they believed Illinois is headed in the wrong direction. Because Illinois politicians have raised taxes, milked employers and created enormous public indebtedness that the pols want to address with ... still more taxation.
Consider, too, the implications for a diminished Illinois in Congress. When Madigan was born 76 years ago, Illinois boasted 27 seats in the U.S. House. Yet in recent decades as the growth-squelching, hostile-to-employers agenda of Springfield has driven people to economically friendlier states, that number has plummeted to 18. In the next reapportionment, after the 2020 census, that number surely will drop to 17. Recent news of continuing population decline here increases the chance the Illinois’ U.S. House delegation instead will shrink to 16.
As we’ve tried to explain before, the expatriates unhitched their futures from a state awash in debt, mired in political dysfunction and hobbled by weak growth. They worried about rising taxes, declining property values or other profound impacts on their lives. If the economic growth prospects here were better, and if job growth were healthier, fewer people would leave and more people would come.
As population loss worsens, all of us ought to ask the leaders of our state and local governments: How bad does the Illinois Exodus have to get before its dominant politicians understand that their debt-be-damned, tax-and-spend policies are ravaging this state?