Illinois is becoming less rural, more educated, more foreign-born, and higher-paid, according to a new analysis of migration patterns.
A net loss of 460,000 residents moving to other states was largely offset by incoming immigrants, researchers found. In addition, more arrivals are working, generating about 200,000 more workers paying income taxes over the past decade.
Contrary to concerns about an exodus of residents due to high taxes, crime and other factors, researchers report that the state has made noticeable gains in certain areas.
“Reports of Illinois’ population decline have been greatly exaggerated,” researcher Frank Manzo IV told the Tribune. “… Data show the Illinois population has been stable, with the Chicago area adding residents and taxpayers.”
The analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Illinois Department of Revenue was conducted by researchers at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Preliminary census estimates had shown greater population losses, but the official census count in 2020 showed that Illinois had 12.8 million residents, a slight decline of about 18,000 over the previous decade. A Census Bureau review subsequently estimated that the state population was likely undercounted by 2%, meaning that the state actually had around 13 million residents.
National migration trends generally have shown people leaving the Midwest for the South and West for years, partly since a significant loss of manufacturing in the 1980s.
The new analysis shows that people who moved out of Illinois were younger, more likely to be Black or from downstate, less likely to be Hispanic, and have lower incomes. Nearly 100,000 African Americans left Illinois. Those losses were largely offset by growth in the Chicago area and immigrants from abroad, the report found.
Hispanics made up the largest single group of arrivals, at 50,000. Still, the analysis, which included those coming for college, found nearly an equal amount of Asian or Pacific Islanders arriving.
The age group that lost the most residents was those 55 and older, which had a net loss of nearly 67,000. The largest gain was among young adults 18 to 24, with a gain of about 63,000.
From 2013 to 2022, Illinois saw significant growth in its number of higher-paid taxpayers, including an 52% increase in those earning $100,000 to $500,000 per year, and an 80% surge in taxpayers earning more than $500,000 per year.
Inflation may have helped drive some of that increase. Raises in the minimum wage also may have helped reduce the number of people claiming the earned income tax credit by 11%.
People who moved into Illinois were better educated and more likely to come to attend college than those who moved out. In census surveys, the most common reasons people cited for leaving were work, such as a new job or transfer, along with shorter commutes, better schools, housing and family ties. The main reason most stayed was to be near family.
Those who left Illinois earned 16% lower incomes, were less than half as likely to be homeowners, and less likely to be married than those who stayed. Pandemic-related business closures may have driven some lower-income workers to leave, creating further inequalities between high- and low-income residents.
University of Illinois professor Robert Bruno, the director of the Project for Middle Class Renewal, said the state trends suggest it is attracting a more educated workforce.
“It’s going to appeal to businesses, college graduates, people working in emerging sectors,” he said. “That’s an optimistic view of where the state is heading.”
The demographic conclusions were based on both the Census Bureau’s current population survey, which asks questions about why people come and go, and other factors.
The results do not include the recent surge of about 20,000 foreign-born immigrants who’ve come across the Mexican border and were bused to Chicago since August 2022. While the public perception is that immigration is being driven exclusively by Hispanics, the analysis found that foreign-born arrivals, which includes military families and those coming for college, were predominantly European and Asian.
To attract and keep the working class, the Illinois Future of Work Task Force, of which Bruno is a member, suggested expanding apprenticeships and technology training.
To help address the increasing polarization between high and low wage earners that may be driving out Black and rural residents, Manzo suggested considering investing more in those areas, making college more affordable and promoting pro-family policies like a child tax credit or homeownership.