Illinois lost about 100,000 residents overall between July 2010 and July 2018, according to recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
As citizens leave, so do the property, income and sales taxes they generate, putting a greater burden on the residents that remain. Reversing the growing trend of Illinois resident outmigration may be the key to preserving the state’s future.
Although some areas have gained population, the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area – comprised of Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties – has experienced overall population decline since July 2014, according to census estimates. Statewide population totals also have been on the decline since July 2013, according to census data.
Kane County has bucked the trend, as estimates show the the county's population grew by 18,072 between 2010 and 2018, which is 3.5% growth in those years. However, growth has slowed in the past five years at 2.2% since 2014. The estimated population of Kane County in 2010 was 516,144 and 534,216 in 2018.
One factor stimulating this exodus is the state's high property tax burden on residents.
Diane Seymour of McHenry said that two years ago, she was living in a home that required her to pay about $15,000 in annual property tax.
She and her husband, Gary, then moved to their current home, where they would pay about $7,000 in property taxes, so they could stay local and care for her elderly mother.
But after her mother’s death, Seymour said she and her husband will be moving to Florida and will be closing on a house similar in size to her McHenry home in June.
She said her new property tax payment will be about $2,400.
Shawn Strach of Dream Real Estate, who is handling the sale of the Seymours' home, said taxes always are the No. 1 issue for people fleeing the state, especially for those entering retirement.
“When you look at that number of $15,000 to $2,400, you’re talking about a monumental amount of money to be freed up for that family,” Strach said.
Another homeowner Strach worked with, who lived in Marengo but worked in Chicago, moved to Indiana and now is paying $1,500 in property taxes as opposed to $6,500 – all while still making the same commute to work.
Of the 53 families his realty company worked with last year, Strach said nine moved out of state.
Seymour said a secondary reason for moving is the climate. Strach said that also is a common factor for moving, especially after Illinois’ record winter, which saw snowfall in April and the wind chill drop to 50 degrees below zero in January.
“We’re still getting snow in April,” Seymour said. “Down there, it’s in the 80s. It was in the 80s in February, so there are a lot more days to be outside and active.”
But Kent Redfield, professor emertius of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said there is much more contributing to population decline than taxes or weather, such as poor public policy.
Although a number of proposals from Gov. J.B. Pritzker have been advertised to help spur economic growth – such as a graduated income tax and the legalization of recreational marijuana – Redfield said there is no magic bullet for reversing declining population trends.
“The state has not done a really good job of providing support for things communities need to make themselves attractive, not only in competing with other communities but from a state perspective,” Redfield said.
Redfield said he would put property taxes and school funding at the top of the list of public policy issues the state has the capacity to grasp.
Illinois revamped its school funding formula in 2017, but K-12 schools in many districts still are not receiving enough money to hit student adequacy targets or the total resources needed to support the best practices for students to succeed.
Redfield said unlike rural areas downstate – which have faced job losses in mining and agriculture industries – McHenry County is in an area that has seen a lot of suburban growth and development, but the pressures of water, roads and other infrastructure can set limitations on growth.
Economic shifts into high-tech, service-based industries also can lead people and businesses to leave an area, but Redfield said the things that made northeastern Illinois attractive 200 years ago, such as access to shipping and railways, still are there.
“The trick is how do you look at what the advantages are and what you can use to sell your county or area,” Redfield said.
But if the population continues to wane, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said Illinois could be faced with the loss of a congressional seat, leaving one less electoral vote in presidential elections and one less voice speaking for the residents of the Prairie State.
Franks said reversing the issue is not a quick fix. He also did not put the sole blame on property taxes or poor weather because Minnesota experiences worse winters and higher taxes than Illinois but continues to grow.
“I do think property taxes are a huge issue besides our dysfunctional government, which I think is getting better,” Franks said.