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Data Points | Who’s Leaving Cook County?

New data adds nuance to conventional wisdom about out-migration in Illinois, especially among Black residents.


Each year over the past several years, when new Census counts are released, we have been bombarded with stories about people fleeing the Chicago area or the state of Illinois. Inevitably, we hear arguments about taxes being too high–an unproven thesis–and stories that center wealthy residents. Unfortunately, the mobility picture in the region is much more complex than is typically reported, and that is especially true when it comes to the region’s Black population. Thus, we thought it important to provide a more nuanced look at Black population change in Cook County over the past decade.

The executive summary below provides a primer on the issue. The full, in-depth report, written by our colleagues Rob Paral and Jim Lewis can be found here.

A succinct summary of Black resident moves in and out of the county, compared to other groups, can be found here.

A deeper dive into the segments of Black population that are more likely to move in or out of the county can be found here.

Here are some of the top takeaways from the research report:

1. Cook County residents are no more likely to leave Illinois than are residents in the rest of the state. And Cook County is not a driving force behind Illinois’ own slow population trends. 

2. Black people are neither the largest group that moves nor the group most likely to move. About 200,000 White Cook County residents move each year compared to 100,000 Black residents. (These moves include persons leaving the county but also persons who move within the county). The percentage of a group that moves tells us who is most likely to be on the go. Again, Black people are not the leading group of movers: About 16 percent of Cook County Asian residents move each year, compared to 13 percent of Black residents.

3. Black movers typically don't move far. When Black Cook County Residents move away from the county, they are about twice as likely than other groups to move to a nearby state like Indiana or Wisconsin, and less likely to go to farther-away parts of the United States. Approximately 22 percent of Black Cook County residents go to a state the shares a border with Illinois, compared to 12 percent of White leavers, 11 percent of Latino movers and six percent of Asian movers.

4. Movement of Black people out of Cook County is most concentrated among upper income, highly educated, and lower-income individuals with lower educational attainment. Black residents leaving Cook County tend to be younger and include upper income professionals and the employed middle class, but also large numbers of low-income and less educated people who identified as lower-wage retail, hospitality and service workers who have characterized much of the County’s recent job growth. Black Movers are not a monolithic group, suggesting that we need a wide variety of policy interventions.

5. Moving out isn't the biggest challenge, it's attracting people to move in. Black residents leaving Cook County have outnumbered arrivers by a ratio of about two-to-one. Black residents in managerial positions who leave are the closest group to being replaced by new arrivers but there is a large gap in lower-income residents in lower-skilled occupations (particularly young people) that are moving to Cook and replacing those who leave.