Illinois: Skilled Moving In, Unskilled Moving Out — At a New Loss


Too often, people interpret population numbers at face value and make a determination of a place’s success or failure based on absolute numbers. Population went up? Place is doing great. Population went down? Place is not doing well. Truth is, there is a lot going on with population change that offer few clues as to why growth or decline occurs. Digging a little deeper into data can tell how places are changing.

Last week the U.S. Census released its 2023 state population estimates. Nationwide, the Census reports that the nation added 1.6 million people in the last year, growing by 0.5% to nearly 335 million people. Generally, the high number of deaths seen during the pandemic has fallen, while migration is returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Of course, population change is distributed equally across the nation. Southern U.S. states grew the most, at 1.1% between 2022-23. The nation’s Midwest and Western states eked by with a scant growth of 0.2% over the period, while Northeastern states actually lost population (-1.0%). As for individual states, South Carolina led the way with a 1.7% growth rate between 2022-23, followed by Florida and Texas at 1.6%. New York had the greatest loss of population at -0.5%, followed by Louisiana, Hawaii and Illinois, all at -0.3%.

I can’t speak for New York, Louisiana or Hawaii as it relates to their population losses, but as a resident of Illinois who’s been studying Midwest demographics for some time, I can point to resources that give a clue as to what’s happening here. Yes, Illinois ranked 47th out of 50 states in population growth between 2022-23. However, what’s happening in Illinois may not be nearly as dire as the figures imply.

A report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute last October found that while the state’s population has been trending downward since 2010, those moving into Illinois as well as those electing to stay in-state are having better economic outcomes than those who leave. The report’s authors found that the exodus out of Illinois is led by younger residents (an average age of 32) who were more likely to be Black, less likely to have college degrees, and more likely to have lower incomes than those moving into the state. Illinois in-migrants were more likely to have a college degree (64 percent domestically, 70 percent internationally) compared to out-migrants (59 percent).

The findings in the report suggest that Illinois, led by the two-thirds of Illinoisans who live in the Chicago metropolitan area, is undergoing a restructuring of its demographics. The state has become more urban and more educated, with more foreign-born, female and Hispanic residents, and increased in income – despite losing residents.

Illinois’ demographic restructuring even calls into question to two often cited reasons for leaving the state – Illinois’ high tax rates and Chicago’s violent crime rate. These points certainly factored into to the highly-publicized move of the hedge fund Citadel and its CEO, Ken Griffin, from Chicago to Miami in 2022. Perhaps that’s true for super-rich people like Griffin, with an estimated net worth of $36.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. However, the IEPI report suggests that taxes and crime are having little impact on the affluent residents who are choosing to come here. Data from the Illinois Department of Revenue found that between 2010 and 2020, the number of tax filers reporting an adjusted gross annual income of $500,001 or more rose by 80 percent, and the number of tax filers with an adjusted gross annual income of $100,001-$500,000 rose by 52 percent (true, more context is probably needed to test the veracity of this fact, but I’ll go with it anyway).

A Crain's Chicago Business article I contributed to in 2022 covers much of the same ground as the IEPI report, but with a specific focus on Chicago.

Read the rest of this piece at Corner Side Yard Blog.

Pete Saunders is a writer and researcher whose work focuses on urbanism and public policy. Pete has been the editor/publisher of the Corner Side Yard, an urbanist blog, since 2012. Pete is also an urban affairs contributor to Forbes Magazine's online platform. Pete's writings have been published widely in traditional and internet media outlets, including the feature article in the December 2018 issue of Planning Magazine. Pete has more than twenty years' experience in planning, economic development, and community development, with stops in the public, private and non-profit sectors. He lives in Chicago.

Photo: Looking down the Chicago River, source:

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What do the latest Census data show for black populations generally in northern Metros?