New census data show that the Chicago area lost population for the fourth consecutive year, continuing a declining state trend that could threaten future federal funding, economic prosperity, and political representation for those left behind.
The Chicago metropolitan area has lost an estimated 22,068 people from 2017 to 2018, according to data from the US Census Bureau released Thursday. While New York and Los Angeles also shrank, the Chicago region saw a larger reduction in both total and percentage change; the area lost 0.23% of its population, more than double of 0.10% of New York.
As defined by the census, the Chicago metro area extends from Cook County to its suburbs and includes parts of southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana. Despite the declining population, it is still home to almost 9.5 million people, according to the latest estimates.
Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago, declined in population for the fourth consecutive year, with an estimated loss of 24,009 inhabitants or 0.46% over the previous year. Although Cook remains the second most populous county in the United States after Los Angeles County, it has been on a declining trend since the early 2000s when the county population declined by 144,220 in seven consecutive years before upload again.
Back then, collar counties-DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane, and Will-were adding hundreds of thousands as Cook's population declined. But this is no longer the case, the data show. Population growth in collars has declined considerably, and the total population in the five counties has declined from 2017 to 2018.
In the last eight years, collar municipalities grew by 38,273 people. In an equivalent time period ending in 2007 – just before the Great Recession – that gain was more than 11 times higher, with 428,954 more residents calling those counties home.
There were some pockets of growth in the area last year; All counties of Kendall, Kane, Will and McHenry had modest gains. But DuPage and Lake counties lost their residents for the third consecutive year, totaling 9,539 people between the two counties over that time period.
Data released on Thursday included population figures by municipality and by metropolitan region alone. State-by-state data was released in December and showed Illinois's population decline for the fifth consecutive year, losing about 45,000 residents between 2017 and 2018.
While many reports of Illinois population problems have focused on relocating residents, census numbers also reflect "natural" gains or losses – births versus deaths – and the number of people arriving from other countries, states, or other nations. For the Chicago area, declining birth rates and stagnant international migration have increased the impact of residents who have opted to relocate in recent years.
Census numbers on migration are expressed only in terms of net gain or loss. Cook County's net migration has been negative for at least 27 years, meaning more people have moved than they moved into the area. The latest data put the current net migration loss rate at 8.6 per 1,000 people, although the country's lowest point came in 2005, when about 13 per 1,000 more people than it had entered.
In collared municipalities, however, more people have failed to enter every year since 2011, reversing the previous trend.
Census numbers do not explain the many reasons why people may leave the Chicago area – some may have followed their employers or graduated from school – but in interviews with the Tribune, ex-residents who chose to leave gave a number of reasons including high taxes, government corruption, crime rates, economic instability, long dislocations, a general increase in the cost of living and the climate.
Michael Gillam and Mary Green, both from Ohio, worshiped the Chicago scene, lake and restaurants while living in the Ravenswood neighborhood in 2015 and 2016, and then enjoyed a more suburban lifestyle for another year in Naperville in DuPage County .
However, when it came time to take root, the couple moved to Houston in February 2018, looking for more affordable housing and warmer weather in one of the fastest growing areas of the country.
"We just wanted to move to some place where our money would stretch even further," said Gillam, 29, a software developer. "The real estate market here is fantastic, it's exploding. In Illinois, it seems like people are leaving.
Gillam and Green, a licensed practical nurse aged 33, said they were troubled by crime in the city as well as instability in the Illinois government, particularly after undergoing a two-year budget stalemate that ended in 2017. They are looking buying a home and feared that real estate in a declining population area would be a bad investment and hard to sell on the road.
Although they return to Chicago for their wedding in the summer of 2021, they have no plans to do so permanently.
"No regrets," Gillam said. "We never look back."
Not just migration
Flight to other states is a factor in the decline of the area population, but not the only one.
Some experts note that the metropolitan area also does not attract enough newcomers to compensate people who move. Immigration from other countries has also helped to reduce population loss, but in recent years this influx has been less robust, according to census estimates. Meanwhile, birth rates are declining across the state, which means there are fewer new residents to make up for other losses.
Take Cook County as an example. From 2017 to 2018, there were more births (63,850) than deaths (43,455), according to the census – creating what is known as "natural increase." During that same period, Cook saw a net increase of 18,796 people arriving from other countries. . (The census includes American and civilian troops returning to the United States at that count.)
But both combined gains failed to offset the net loss of 63,339 in domestic migration. All together, they create the county's total loss of more than 24,000 people.
In Kane County, in the western suburb, the picture is different, as thousands of babies are helping to boost population growth. Kane had an estimated 6,516 births last year, enough to offset a net loss of 2,011 people and 3,446 deaths.
Kane had the highest rate of natural increase in the region from 2017 to 2018 – adding about 6 people per 1,000 inhabitants when births and deaths are combined. Although Kane's birth rate has declined over the years – mirroring the rest of the state – it remains the highest among suburban counties in northeastern Illinois with 12.2 births per 1,000 people.
These trends did not surprise Tara Burghart, who is on the City Council in suburban Geneva, and used to run the Go West Young Mom blog, a hyperlocal site for parents in the Kane County region.
Burghart believes the county tends to attract young families with great schools, libraries, prosperous park districts, and more affordable housing compared to other parts of the region.
"And people may feel they have more physical space and maybe economic space to have another child," she said.
Amanda Pauli, a resident in Geneva, has agreed that it has been a great place to raise children – but that is not enough to keep her in the area. His family is planning to move to Michigan in June, near the town where he grew up and near relatives.
Pauli said they currently pay about $ 1,000 a month in property taxes, compared to $ 450 a month they expect to pay in Michigan. They will also be living on a lake in a wooded area with more opportunities for cycling, hiking and skiing.
"The two biggest things are around the family and the cost of living," said Pauli, a housewife mother of two school-aged children. "And the outdoors part of it. We really miss it.
Your family will join on one side of net migration calculation, the ones that come out. But some experts say the focus should also be on attracting new people to the area.
"We do not have a particularly high migration rate just out, but very few people come here compared to our population compared to the rest of the country," said Daniel Kay Hertz, director of research at the Center for Taxes and Budget. Accountability.
Using numbers from the American Community Survey of 2015 conducted by the US Census Bureau, its agency found that Illinois ranked in the middle of the group nationwide on the rate of people leaving the state, but it was the third from the base of people arriving .
The possible reasons why people are not moving to Illinois should be part of the conversation, Hertz said.
"Narratives around the state are important and can shape people's decisions," Hertz said. "And those in Illinois are very, very, very negative, so I think I exaggerate some of the issues relating to other places."
Jody Cameron, 44, who came to Chicago from Dallas in November 2016 for a job in radiology administration, said he was happy to have made the move.
Although he has found that the total cost of living in Texas is much lower – there is no state income tax and less parking fees due to more open space – he said his salary increased by 50% because his training was more demanded here.
He appreciates Chicago's diversity, restaurants, cultural opportunities and sporting events, and does not feel less secure than when he lived in Dallas. When he posts snow photos on social networks, friends in Texas say they are jealous. He does not miss scorching summers.
"People here are like, why would you move here?" Said Cameron, who lives in the neighborhood of Logan Square. "Because people tend to think the grass is greener somewhere else. My opinion is that there are pros and cons of all places. "
Consequences of change
The Chicago area's population loss fits into a wider pattern of decline in Illinois, which lost its place as the country's fifth largest state to Pennsylvania in 2017.
Of the 102 counties in Illinois, only 16 had population growth from 2017 to 2018, and only 11 have had net gains so far this decade, said Brian Harger, an associate researcher at the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University.
After several decades of modest growth, the state's population began to fall after 2013, with a net loss of more than 138,000 people since then, he said. Growth in the Chicago area and some pockets in the north of the country used to be enough to make up for losses elsewhere, but that has not been the case in recent years, he said.
"Even the Chicago area did not do very well," Harger said. "There were only a few counties in the periphery that gained population and their gains were fairly modest."
The northern metropolitan regions – townships that surround an urban center of at least 50,000 people, such as Moline in Quad, Peoria, and Bloomington – are similarly experiencing larger net migration deficits that have turned population gain into loss, data from census.
From 2001 to 2007, metropolitan areas in the north of the state added 144,089 residents, largely driven by gains in migration. But over the last seven years, these areas have lost a third of that gain, about 43,000 people.
As for the state's rural counties, they have been losing population since 1997, as residents' deaths outnumber births and more people leave than they do.
While many experts bemoan the fall of the population, Chicago demographer Rob Paral examined the latest figures from Cook County and found that "it's no cause for joy or alarm."
Because Cook is such a large county, the number of residents lost is less important than the percentage change, he said. The Cook County population has increased for several years after 2010, Paral said, and although it has been declining since 2015, the percentage reduction was minimal.
Although the loss of population is important to monitor, he said, he does not believe there is a crisis in Cook County.
"There is no mass exodus," he said. "I think this is important because for many years there was a concern that somehow the county would have an accelerated loss, but that's not what we see. People were using the loss of population here … as a hook to hang their favorite problem. They would say it was because of taxes, or because of this and that. But the numbers do not support the idea that we have some kind of terrible problem. "
Other experts warn that the consequences of continued population loss can be bleak.
At least $ 34 billion in federal grants for programs that directly assist Illinois residents are tied to the 2020 census count, according to a recent report from the George Washington University Public Policy Institute; loss of population can mean less money to get around. Illinois also runs the risk of losing up to two seats in Congress if that once-per-decade count shows a sufficient population decline, with ramifications for long-term political representation, according to a report by the Illinois Comprehensive Counting Commission.
The population loss in the Chicago area is particularly worrisome in terms of the region's economy, said Aseal Tineh, an associate policy analyst with the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Agency.
"We talk a lot about how demographic trends and changes in population are a condition and consequence of economic prosperity," she said. "When we see a population decline, this can indicate how well the economy is doing to provide opportunities for individuals and communities. But then the reverse is true. As we lose population, we are also losing human capital and our workforce. And this is worrying for the growth of the regional economy. Therefore, concern is in two ways.
Norman Walzer, a senior research fellow at the Center for Governmental Studies at NIU, who has studied economic development and public finances in rural areas for almost 50 years, noted that these parts of the state are already grappling with the lack of access to health care. Shrinking populations also overwhelm local government finances, Walzer said.
The declining population may tear the social fabric of the most affected communities, particularly when businesses close and local schools close or merge, said Kathleen Cagney, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Population Research.
An aging population, with less growth and stagnant birth rates, transfers more economic burden to younger, hard-working people, she added.
"You have to think of something called the dependency ratio," she said. "The number of people who are in the labor market, essentially in comparison to those who need support. As people are living longer, many of these people are not fully engaged in the job market. So you have a population that requires some form of assistance and fewer people to help. "