SPRINGFIELD – The exodus continues.
Illinois dropped from the fifth-largest state to the sixth, according to recently released Internal Revenue Service data. We’ve been edged out by Pennsylvania.
In 2017, the Land of Lincoln lost about 33,700 people.
That’s the equivalent of my hometown of Galesburg vanishing in one year. In fact, Illinois had the greatest numeric population drop of any state.
And this isn’t some demographic blip. Illinois has been hemorrhaging people for years. In fact, since 2013, the state has lost 88,000 people.
So that prompts the question: Why?
Since I began publishing this column more than 15 years ago, I’ve received letters, emails and phone calls from that diaspora of former Illinoisans scattered across the nation.
They talk about the state’s high taxes and lack of job opportunities as the main reasons they left. Surprisingly, the weather is rarely mentioned.
But, hey, don’t just take my word for it.
The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University conducted a study on the issue in 2016, It found that nearly half of the people living in Illinois want to leave the state. The most common reason cited was taxes.
The exodus of Illinoisans is a problem that compounds on itself.
When people leave they take their pocketbooks with them, and that means less money is being spent and invested here. And that means fewer jobs.
And companies are also moving out of state because they, too, don’t like the Prairie State’s taxation and regulatory policies. Illinois has high workers’ compensation rates.
But when I’ve talked to some folks in the Illinois General Assembly, they’ll argue taxes and regulations have nothing to do with Illinois’ population loss. They point to the weather.
I’ll be the first to admit Illinois has crappy winters. But, so do our neighbors, and they are growing.
The same IRS study found that in 2017, Missouri gained 22,356 residents, Indiana gained 32,811, Michigan gained 28,866, Iowa gained 14,840, Wisconsin gained 22,566 and Kentucky essentially held its own with a gain of 1,100.
It’s worth noting that every one of Illinois’ neighbors are right-to-work states, where workers cannot be compelled to pay money to unions. (Kentucky, the neighbor with the most modest population gain, adopted a right-to-work law in 2017.)
Businesses often prefer to operate in a right-to-work environment so that puts Illinois at a competitive disadvantage when competing for jobs.
Let’s face it, people follow jobs. And the job market isn’t what it should be in the Land of Lincoln.
That won’t change until Illinois lawmakers take action to lower taxes and workplace regulations.
• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast "Suspect Convictions." He can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.