Commentary / Economy / Op-Ed

OPINION: A Mass Exodus Out Of Illinois

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015 || By Rev. Regi Ratliff

4656_letter-recently, I ran into a classmate at the District 209 School Board meeting. As we were discussing the crises that exists in the Village of Maywood, he revealed that he is preparing to leave the State of Illinois for several reasons.

One, the politics in Maywood is so divisive that leaders don’t recognize the damages they are causing the residents. Another reason was the brutal winters in Chicago. He correctly pointed out that we are getting older and the harsh winters have no signs of letting up anytime soon. His future destination was somewhere in the South, such as Texas. The same thing happened this past week, where another classmate informed me that he was moving to Atlanta within the next 2 weeks.

These recent conversations led me to conduct research on where the entire State of Illinois was trending in the area of population growth. Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t encouraging.

Illinois suffered a net loss of 94,956 people in state-to-state migration last year, the highest rate in decades. That number is one part of an equation involving births, deaths and immigration from other countries that lead to overall population loss. But Illinois’ state-to-state migration loss is the biggest contributor to that overall population decline, says William Frey of the Brookings Institute. Frey added that the last year Illinois had lost population was 1987-88.

Several additional statistics stood out in the midst of this state’s current decline.

  • Three moving companies that look at migration patterns all note the high number of Illinois expats in new reports. Each company puts Illinois in the top three states for outbound shipments. Allied Van Lines ranks Illinois number one, with 1,372 net outbound moves. While these are limited figures reflecting the movement of entire households, demographers take them seriously as a snapshot of behavior by more affluent Americans.
  • The three states that attract the most Illinois residents are Texas, Florida and California, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, which cited 2010 tax records — the most recent available. The moving companies see a lot of people heading for Oregon and North Carolina.

The Census Bureau says North Dakota is the fastest-growing state. This is confirmation that people go where the jobs are, regardless of the weather.

According to Michael Lucci, director of jobs and growth at the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois is used to seeing 60,000 to 70,000 people a year go elsewhere, costing the state heavily in lost tax revenue. Lucci explains that this number is fairly common for Illinois, but a major population decline when the number exceeds 90,000 is not common.

When people leave, they take their purchasing power, entrepreneurial activity and taxable income with them. According to the Internal Revenue Service, Illinois lost people to 43 states, including each of its neighbors: Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and Iowa.

Over the course of the entire year, the state saw a net of 40,000 people leave Illinois for another state. In addition, Illinois lost residents who took with them a net of $1.5 billion in taxable income. From 1995 to 2009, Illinois lost out on a net of $26 billion in taxable income to out-migration.

Illinois is also mired in a state debt crisis, which is largely driven by unfunded pension obligations, the country’s worst credit rating and weak job growth.

Locally, in my hometown of Maywood, there has been several decades of population decline. The population has fallen by at least one thousand residents each decade, starting in 1970. In 1970, the population was 29,019 and, as of 2014, was estimated at 24,133. The reasons for this decrease includes a loss of jobs due to business closings, along with a decrease in school performance and an increase in crime. Couple that with the village current financial troubles and a lack of resources for the youth and you have a perfect storm of failed economics.

Leadership in the Village of Maywood has yet to roll out an authentic economic development plan that will bring businesses to the community, create jobs for its residents, improve its park and recreation department, and relieve some of its financial burden from the residents. The fact that several homes on my block now sit empty is deeply troubling. That’s a sign of economic instability. It’s a sign of lost revenue in property taxes, a lack of vital services and lack of resources. It’s a sign that the Village of Maywood is insolvent.

If the State of Illinois wants to slow the population decline, the first thing that must take place is to pass the state budget. It is an embarrassment that the governor cannot work with his colleagues in Springfield to pass a budget for the good of Illinois. The state also needs to lower taxes so that it can compete with its neighboring states, as well as those around the country.

Illinois also needs to consider business expansion, which equates to more jobs, better schools and a decrease in crime. I am not ready to give up on Illinois just yet. However, I do share my classmate’s frustration about the leadership in Springfield and my hometown dragging its feet on keeping residents feeling like Illinois is a place to call home. VFP

Reverend Regi Ratliff is the Founder and Executive Director of Eternal Light Community Services, located at 200 S. Fifth Avenue in Maywood. Eternal Light provides the following programs:public speaking, financial literacy, health and wellness, and entrepreneurship classes to youth, ages 5-18.

Contact Rev. Ratliff at (708) 813-4722 to register your child for one of our programs today.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Village Free Press.

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