Illinois becoming more urban, higher paid, less reliant on government assistance
An analysis of Current Population Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Illinois Department of Revenue data shows that Illinois is NOT suffering the mass exodus that some have claimed. To the contrary, researchers at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign have found that Illinois’ population has been stable over the last decade—driven by growth in the Chicago metropolitan area—with the state as a whole becoming less rural, more educated, more foreign-born, more Hispanic, and higher-paid. Importantly, a decade of migration trends also reveals that substantially more Illinois workers are contributing to the state’s tax base and fewer are reliant on government assistance programs.
The official Census count showed that Illinois had 12.81 million residents in 2020, a decline of about 18,000 residents over the decade. This population count came as a surprise to many, including those in trusted media outlets, who had been using speculative population estimates to claim that Illinois had lost hundreds of thousands of residents due to outmigration. A post-Census review subsequently found that Illinois’ population was likely undercounted by 2%, meaning that the state actually had around 13 million residents in 2020.
“Reports of Illinois’ population decline have been greatly exaggerated by a reliance on political narratives and population estimates over hard data and actual Census counts,” said University of Illinois Professor, PMCR Director, and study coauthor Robert Bruno, Ph.D. “This approach not only breeds a distorted picture of our state, it fails to accurately reflect the state of our communities and our economy.”
In their study, ILEPI and PMCR researchers first used Illinois Department of Revenue tax statistics from 2010 to 2020 to note that Illinois added more than 200,000 taxpayers last decade, an increase of 4%. The tax base grew in the Chicago area while it declined Downstate. The number of tax filers with high incomes grew substantially, as Illinois became a $1 trillion economy: Taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes above $100,000 per year grew by more than 50% over the decade, including an increase of 80% among those earning more than $500,000 annually. Meanwhile, the number of families claiming Earned Income Credit (EIC) government benefits decreased 11% over the decade.
ILEPI and PMCR researchers then used Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement survey data from 2013 through 2022. In this survey, the Census Bureau asks U.S. residents whether they have changed residences in the past year, the state of previous residence for those who moved, and their primary reason for moving.
People who moved into Illinois were better educated and more likely to arrive for college than those who moved out. They were also younger on average than people who have stayed in Illinois. Two-in-five movers cite job-related circumstances as their top reason for moving. Additionally, the data indicated that while Illinois lost residents to “net domestic migration,” or people moving within the United States, these losses were almost entirely offset by immigrants coming to Illinois from abroad.
While outmigrants were statistically more likely to be Black or African American, people moving into Illinois and people who stay in Illinois were disproportionately more likely to be Hispanic or Latinx.
Finally, the data showed that people who stay in Illinois have better socioeconomic outcomes than all migrants. Stayers averaged 16% higher annual household incomes than those who have left Illinois, were more likely to be married, and had homeownership rates of 70%—more than double the rate of those who left the state (30%).
Domestic migration data is critical, but it is only one piece of the puzzle that the media has essentially treated as the whole story for too many years,” said ILEPI Economist and study coauthor Frank Manzo IV. “Equally important for our economy is the significance of immigration and an understanding of who chooses to stay in Illinois—and why. The data does not support the narrative that high-income earners are fleeing the state. If anything, it shows the opposite to be the case.”
The data revealed that people who have left Illinois tended to be younger males with lower incomes than those who chose to stay. Only 30% of those who left became homeowners within their first year in their new states, and 14% reported relying on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp assistance.
“People who move, whether into Illinois or out of Illinois, are more likely to be seeking upward economic mobility, either through job opportunities or educational pursuits,” added Bruno. “They are less likely to be concerned with things like the estate tax, property taxes, or the corporate income tax.”
The researchers believe their findings could offer important insights for policymakers.
“From investing in rural and majority-Black communities to expanding efforts to improve college affordability, Illinois can do more to attract and retain people,” concluded Manzo. “The data clearly shows that investments in people, families, and communities paired with sound fiscal responsibility are the best ways to accomplish that goal.”
The Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) is a nonprofit organization which uses advanced statistics and the latest forecasting models to promote economic growth for businesses and working families.
The Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois investigates the working conditions of workers in today’s economy to elevate public discourse aimed at reducing poverty, create more stable forms of employment, and promote middle-class jobs.