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Illinois’ Population Declines for Sixth Straight Year

For the sixth consecutive year, Illinois’ population has decreased.  In 2019, Illinois lost an estimated 51,250 residents or 0.4% of its population and has lost more residents than any other state over the past decade.  This continued exodus was shown in data issued by the U.S. Census Bureau which released new data at the end of 2019.[1]  Over the past 10 years, Illinois has moved from fifth to sixth place among U.S. states in total population as its overall population has declined from 12,830,632 in 2010 to 12,671,821 as of July 1, 2019, a loss of 1.2% of its population.  By contrast, the state of Pennsylvania’s population has increased 0.8% from 12,702,379 in 2010 to 12,801,989 in 2019.  Pennsylvania overtook Illinois as the fifth most populous state in 2017.

As a result of this population decline, Illinois’ political clout has decreased.  Illinois’ representation has declined to 19 members in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In the 1940s, Illinois had 27 members in the U.S. House of Representatives.  After the 2020 census, Illinois’ representation could drop to as low as 17 or 16.  Meanwhile, Illinois’ neighboring states have all shown population increases since 2010.  For example, Michigan’s population increased 1.0%; Wisconsin’s increased 2.4%; Missouri’s increased 2.5%; Kentucky’s increased 3.0%; Iowa’s increased 3.6% and Indiana’s increased 3.8%.  The state of Indiana has grown by 36,722 in net residents over the last year alone.

Why do residents of Illinois continue to leave the state?  Part of it may be due to retirees moving to warmer climates, but the increased cost of living also plays a large factor in our population decline.  This cost of living increase results from Illinois’ ever-growing pension debt and interest on that debt and frustration from high real estate taxes and sales taxes.  As of fiscal year 2019, the total statewide unfunded pension liabilities are $137.3 billion.[4]   According to a recent ranking by Kiplinger, a personal finance magazine, Illinois is the least tax-friendly state in the U.S. This ranking was based in large part because of its high property taxes.[2]  In addition, a recent USA Today article[3] ranked Illinois as second in the nation with an effective tax rate for homeowners of 2.30% of its residential property value.  Illinois only trails New Jersey’s effective property tax rate of 2.35% of their homes’ market values.  On the other side of the spectrum, Hawaii ranks the best in the nation with an effective property tax rate of 0.27% of residential market values.  Hawaii does have high sales taxes because of the higher cost of transporting goods to the island.

So the question is what are the possible solutions for the continued exodus of more Illinois residents?  One possibility is to allow voters to pass more substantive pension reform by loosening the Illinois Constitution’s pension clause and allowing for different investment vehicles to fund pensions or by reducing our property tax burden by consolidating or eliminating some of Illinois’ over 6,000 taxing districts.  There are some positives in Illinois such as our unemployment rate being at a historic low.  However, unless, Illinois enacts some much-needed reforms or common-sense solutions, Illinois’ population and political clout on a national scale will continue to plummet.


[1] “Illinois loses population for 6th straight year – and it lost more residents than any other state this decade,” by Cecilia Reyes, Chicago Tribune, December 30, 2019.

[2] “Illinois leads a new Kiplinger ranking mainly because of its high property taxes, MarketWatch reports,” by Minho Kim, Crain’s Chicago Business, October 2, 2019.

[3] “Which states have the highest and lowest property taxes,” by James Herron, USA Today, May 20, 2019.

[4] “Illinois’ Unfunded Pension Liability Rises to $137.3 Billion,” Reuters, December 4, 2019.