News & Politics

Will the Last Person to Leave Illinois Please Turn Out the Light?

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, speaks at a news conference on the first day of a special session on education funding at the state Capitol, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. (Justin Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

According to Census Bureau data released on Wednesday, the state of Illinois lost a net of 45,116 people in 2018 — the fifth straight year the population of the state has suffered a net decline and the worst year yet for population loss.

Chicago Tribune:

This is terrible news for House Speaker Michael Madigan and his cronies who in recent decades have steered the Illinois General Assembly toward higher taxes, rising public debt and anti-business policies that discourage employers from locating, expanding or just keeping their workforces here. Residents fed up with the economic climate here are heading for less taxaholic, jobs-friendlier states.

The new numbers confront Democrats who’ve run the legislature — and who keep raising taxes — with realities they’ll wiggle to explain but can’t deny: As the nation’s population expands, the populations of Illinois and eight other states are declining. On their watch, an Illinois once revered as a land of opportunity now is in decline.

More ominously, every other state in the Midwest is growing.

Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House and the most powerful politician in the state, will have a new toy to play with in January. Newly-elected Governor J.B. Pritzker knows who his boss is and will ask “how high” when Madigan orders him to jump.

The rest of the census report isn’t any better. About 114,000 people left the state for friendlier climes.


 Certainly some leave because they don’t like winter weather, or summer humidity, we suppose. But the trail out West or to down South is well worn. There’s nothing new about Sun Belt migration, and indeed, the story in Illinois is that for decades a steady, fairly predictable number of Illinois residents left for other places. Over the past few decades, about 65,000 more people voluntarily left the state each year than arrived. It was neither shocking nor worrisome.

The change came in 2014. That year, with the Great Recession well over, the domestic migration shortfall jumped from 68,204 to 93,704. The negative number jumped again in 2015 (106,544) and again in 2016 (109,941). In 2017, more exodus: 114,779. And now in 2018, Illinois lost another 114,154 people. If you’ve read our editorials about what we call the “Illinois Exodus,” you’ve met many of these people and absorbed their families’ stories. They include young people who will build their futures elsewhere, far from the families who raised them and hoped to keep them close.

Many of them left because they believed Illinois is headed in the wrong direction. Because Illinois politicians have raised taxes, milked employers and created enormous public indebtedness that the pols want to address with … still more taxation.

The writing is on the wall with the election of Pritzker. Rather than cut anything from the state budget, Democratic politicians will tax the “rich,” including imposing new business taxes. It’s a formula that will please their cronies in labor and activist groups, but few others.

Pritzker-Madigan have been vague about how they are going to defuse the massive pension bomb set to detonate during the next economic downturn. The shortfall in annual funding for those pensions has become so bad that the state is on the hook to pensioners for about $120 billion — money that must be paid, by law, even if taxpayers have to pay it. The entire state budget in 2017 was $38.5 billion.

The exodus from Illinois is past the tipping point. The smartest, most industrious, most ambitious, and hardest-working citizens are leaving, meaning that the remaining taxpayers will have to pony up to support those who live off government.

No one expects change to occur anytime soon, which means tens of thousands of more Illinoisans will be packing up to leave this year.