The revelation that Illinois had the largest population loss of any state between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, barely registered as a ripple last month.
Our state’s shrinking is hardly news — and is barely surprising — because it’s been happening for years, drip by drip, day by day.
That’s scary, too.
Consider: The state lost about 33,700 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s like half of Decatur’s population packing up and moving out — which, given this recent tundra-esque weather pattern, would be somewhat plausible.
Kidding aside, the cold is actually a probable factor in our net migration. The Chicago Tribune in 2016 surveyed former Illinois residents and found weather was one of the reasons they moved out.
Of course, we’re mostly equals in meteorological measures to our neighboring states. What those states don’t have are the formidable difficulties of Illinois. The Tribune survey identified high taxes, crime, unemployment and financial problems in Springfield as the other influences for residents hitting the road. To that list we’ll add state government’s weak commitment to education and an alarmingly bad ability to help businesses grow.
All of these problems are especially painful for places like Decatur, where the population decline is obvious.
We worry about this issue accelerating. We can’t keep following the pattern and expect different results. Every other Midwestern state has increased population in the past seven years, but not us. On Tuesday, Illinois ranked No. 1 for outbound moves on the 41st annual National Movers Study conducted by moving company United Van Lines.
That's not a No. 1 we want. (New Jersey, our sister in high taxes and nonfunctional state government, was No. 2.)
Such hemorrhaging eventually raises the prospect of Illinois losing a seat in Congress. Our population is now 12,802,023 — and we’ve lost the fifth-most populous state title to Pennsylvania.
When will it end?
Not before we make serious changes, and it starts with government. Our real estate taxes, income taxes, property taxes and workers' compensation insurance rates are embarrassments, as is the hangover of the two-year budget impasse and rampant deficit spending. It simply costs too much to do business here, especially compared to neighboring states.
We’re looking forward to voters remembering these issues when Election Day rolls around.