Alton, IL

Illinois Keeps Losing Population

Story by WBGZ Radio

Illinois keeps losing population and wealth, and while there may be many reasons, one analyst thinks continued tax increases aren’t helping. Another says the continued loss is putting the state’s mounting debt to cover basic services on the backs of fewer and fewer taxpayers.


There were 96,201 federal tax returns filed from people moving into Illinois from other states or from out of the country in tax year 2016, according to the latest IRS filing information released late last month, but there were 139,302 returns from former Illinoisans filed elsewhere. That means there were 43,101 fewer federal tax returns filed in Illinois for the 2016 tax year.


The loss is even larger when including exemptions, which indicates possible dependants. IRS data for Illinois says there were 169,018 exemptions added to the state versus 256,855 leaving the state. That is a net loss of 87,837.


Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies Researcher Brian Harger said it’s a trend of continued outmigration from Illinois.


“Looking at population trends, looking at labor force participation, looking at income and seeing kind of the same thing, you’ve got a general outmigration ... from most of the state, especially rural areas,” Harger said.


The trend is the same in Chicago with losses doubling from the year before to 18,500, Harger said.


One age group with declining numbers is 18- to 24-year-olds, Harger said. That especially indicates a slowed economy and more strain on those left behind to pick up the tab for those supported by social services.


“You’re trying to support a mass of people with fewer and fewer people paying in,” Harger said.

With fewer filers comes a loss of wealth. The IRS data indicates $6.5 billion in adjusted gross income came into the state from elsewhere, but $11.3 billion left the state, a net loss of more than $4.8 billion.


Ted Dabrowski, president of financial news analysis website Wirepoints Illinois, said those leaving are taking their wealth with them.


“Not only are we losing people on a net basis, but the people we’re picking up are making less than the people we’re losing,” Dabrowski said, putting the earnings difference per individual at $15,000 to $20,000 a year.


While there may be many reasons people flee Illinois, like escaping high property taxes and poorer employment and educational opportunities, Dabrowski said there’s another major factor.


“I think it’s the arrogance of the politicians who think they can get away with higher and higher taxes,” Dabrowski said. “But the people are proving they'll win because they can vote and walk with their feet.”


A Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll from last year found that a quarter of those surveyed said high taxes were the main reason they’d consider leaving Illinois. Less than 15 percent said it was the weather.


The IRS data for the 2016 year shows Illinois lost more than 6,400 on net to Florida, with more than 4,800 lost to California. But Indiana picked up more than 3,200 Illinois filers on net, while Wisconsin snagged more than 2,900. Missouri gained more than 1,200, Iowa picked up more than 780, and Kentucky snagged 473 from Illinois.


“People are not just going to the sunny states, they’re going to our neighboring states,” Dabrowski said. “They’re looking for opportunities right over our border. We lose people on a net basis to every one of our neighbors.”


When looking at trends based on U.S. Census data, “Governing” magazine puts Illinois’ outmigration at 83,200 on net for the 2015 year, 73,614 in 2014, and 66,273 for 2013.


The U.S. Census is expected to roll out its most recent migration data before the end of the year.


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