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Illinoisans Are Leaving for These States

Illinois was one of six states to lose population last year. Where are people going?

Summer is prime time for Americans on the move, whether they are packing up for college or buying a new home across the country. Illinois was one of only six states to lose population last year. So what’s driving people away from the Land of Lincoln—and where are they going?

Most Illinois defectors are heading to neighboring snowy states.

A look at Census state migration data shows that from 2010 to 2013 (the latest available data), a total of 1.3 million people left Illinois for other states, while only 850,000 left their home state for Illinois, a 275,000 person deficit. (This analysis only considers people moving to and from Illinois and other states. It does not account for births or deaths.) Over the time period, Illinois had a positive migration balance with only 14 states. For example, 8,103 people left Illinois for Kansas but 8,462 moved to Illinois from Kansas—a 359 person net gain.

So where are these greener pastures? Everyone’s first guess is the sunny states: Florida, Texas, California and Arizona. But those aren’t the top places Illinoisans choose. Most Illinois defectors are heading to neighboring states, snowy Wisconsin and Indiana!

What’s so great about Indiana and Wisconsin?  While a lower tax burden might be why people are moving to Indiana, that doesn’t explain Wisconsin: Badgers pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than Illinoisans. And Illinois was recently named one of the top 10 states to make a living when considering cost of living and average wages, ranking higher than both Indiana and Wisconsin. When it comes to school quality, all three states rank average. But one big difference is business climate. Indiana has the 8th best business environment in the nation, while Illinois ranked 31st; Wisconsin, at 43rd, ranked worse than both. This could explain why Indiana had higher average job growth, 1.6 percent per year compared with Illinois’ 1.1 percent and Wisconsin’s 1.0 percent.

Now before we all groan about the challenges of living in Illinois (Springfield, we’re looking at you), an analysis of neighboring states shows that while people from Illinois are choosing Indiana and Wisconsin, both also had negative state migration over the time period—just not as much as Illinois. (Michigan also had a negative balance.)

Warm states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, have a natural draw. But I was surprised to see Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri with positive state migration as well. Perhaps people in retirement are moving to the Ozarks? In Oklahoma’s case, it’s a result of expanded fracking: Oklahoma City is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, a direct correlation to increased oil drilling. And Iowa? The National Journal’s recent article, Do the most hipster thing ever and move to Des Moines, cites that the growth of Millennials in the Des Moines region exceeds national growth by 10 percent. Can’t afford Brooklyn? Des Moines is your answer. Positives cited are low cost of living, access to arts and great restaurants, affordable housing and a technology industry dubbed “Silicon Prairie” (a title Chicago is also competing for).

So it seems, at least in the Midwest, that there’s no single answer to why people choose one state over another. But given the amenities in the Chicago region—two major airports, access to transit, relative affordability compared with other large urban areas, a beautiful lakefront, access to fresh water, great cultural amenities and arguably the best food scene in the country—more people should want to call Illinois home. And we need those people: When they leave, so goes with them federal funding for housing, community development, roads and bridges, education, the list goes on—because those funds are doled out based on population. Additionally, when more people leave Illinois than move in, we risk losing Congressional representation. In 2013, Illinois lost another Congressional seat, down six since 1980. 

What can we do to attract them? 

Attracting people also means giving everyone the opportunity for a high quality of life.

This month, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) unveiled Grow Chicago, an initiative to grow our city’s population by increasing the opportunity for housing and commercial development near public transportation. Transit-oriented development is an effective and efficient growth strategy that would include reforming the zoning code to allow denser development with less parking near transit, identifying a transit-oriented development “point person” in City government who can shepherd major projects, focusing City funds on areas near transit and ensuring that homes remain affordable so that growth benefits everyone.  

Our interactive website includes a calculator that allows people to “design” a project and see how it will impact the surrounding community.

MPC supports Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal for a reformed transit-oriented development ordinance that would accomplish many of the changes MPC is pushing for. The ordinance is likely to be reviewed by City Council at its September meeting.

Attracting people also means giving everyone the opportunity for a high quality of life, not just those with means. As my colleague Breann Gala points out, the proportion of families living in very poor neighborhoods in the region or very affluent neighborhoods has increased steadily since 1970. If the Chicago region wants to grow, it must work to improve opportunities for all people so that they don’t have to—and don’t want to—leave. MPC and partners across the region are leading housing initiatives that reduce housing costs and expand transit access for low-income families. We’re also building municipal capacity to address the suburbanization of poverty and housing market instabilities, giving more people a chance at moving up economic and social ladders. The truth is that people stay in places where they see opportunity, instead of looking elsewhere for a chance at success.

And Springfield has to get its act together. The budget impasse at the state is a national headliner and the fiscal uncertainty is a deterrent to new business and residents.

The answers are clear: Pass a balanced state budget that doesn’t decimate opportunities for low-income people. Invest in infrastructure—transit, schools, roads, water pipes and sewers—to improve transportation options and education and to stop wasting Lake Michigan water so we can instead use it as an economic development opportunity. Work together to provide affordable housing in opportunity areas. Eliminate fragmentation of governments so residents can decipher their property tax bills—and therefore feel invested in their communities.

So Illinois, we’ve got a lot to like but we’ve got a lot of work to do. Let’s get started.

In the next installment in this series, I’ll look at national and regional county migration patterns.