Illinois’ population decline reached record levels in 2021 as the state’s population dropped by 113,776 residents from July 2020-July 2021.
Population decline was widespread during the year, affecting nearly all areas of the state as 81 of Illinois’ 102 counties saw population losses, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released March 24.
The largest declines in numeric terms came from Illinois’ most populous counties. Cook County lost 89,595 residents, while DuPage County lost 6,268 from July 2020-July 2021. The decline in Cook County was the third largest in the nation, behind only New York County and Los Angeles County.
Adams County lost 576 residents, Hancock County lost 152 residents and Pike County lost 15 residents. Brown County was one of 21 counties that saw a population increase, adding 204 residents. Brown County’s rate of adding 32.8 people per 1,000 people was the best rate for any county in the state.
While Illinois’ most populous areas are losing the largest number of residents, population decline is happening at the fastest rates in the state’ more rural areas. Alexander County and Edwards County led the state in population decline as a share of population.
Statewide, population decline has been driven entirely by residents moving out. Illinoisans packing up and moving to other states has been a large component of population decline at the county level in Illinois as well. Of the 81 counties that experienced population decline in 2021, 64 of them (79%) also experienced domestic outmigration.
It is also likely the COVID-19 pandemic and state-mandated lockdowns affected migration decisions of Illinoisans across the state differently. While fewer Illinois counties experienced population decline in the year from July 2020-July 2021 than in the year from July 2019-July 2020, total outmigration reached all-time highs in 2021.
One of the main reasons for the spike in moves during 2021 was a large increase from Cook County. For the year ending July 2020, there were 57,179 residents who left Cook County for other states. In the year ending July 2021, there were 98,205 residents who left. That’s an increase of more than 70% in domestic outmigration. The vast majority of other counties saw a slowdown in domestic migration rates.
This is part of a larger nationwide trend, as many Americans left large, densely populated cities for suburbs and less-crowded areas in 2021.
It remains unclear as to the extent factors such as pandemic-related job losses, school closures and government mandates played in migration decisions. However, the major reasons Illinoisans have historically chosen to leave the state are for better housing and employment opportunities, both of which have been made worse by poor public policy in Illinois. Nearly half of Illinoisans have thought about moving away, and they said taxes were their No. 1 reason. Population decline also contributes to the lower economic prospects of the state.
Illinois is still missing more than 178,000 jobs relative to its pre-pandemic peak, the state’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation and population decline threatens to prevent employment levels from achieving a full recovery.
Making matters worse, lawmakers have put Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Amendment 1 would change the Illinois Constitution to grant unions in Illinois more extreme powers than they have in any other state, including the ability to bargain over virtually limitless subjects, the ability to override state law through their contracts, and a guarantee that taxpayers and lawmakers would have an extremely difficult time reversing course.
Should Amendment 1 pass, Illinois’ $317 billion pension debt will continue to balloon as state and local taxes, which are already among the highest in the nation, rise in an attempt to keep up. Spending on vital programs will continue to fall. Illinois’ housing and labor markets are already suffering as high taxes and reduced services make finding a job and living in the state tenuous.
Illinois needs reform that will rein in the state’s cost drivers and deliver services to residents in exchange for their tax dollars. Amendment 1 ensures those challenges will increase.
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