CHICAGO - A politically charged debate erupted across Illinois after the U.S. Census showed the state endured a net decline of 7,835 residents in a total population 12.8 million.
"Our work force, our families and our employers are voting with their feet," declared Republican State Rep. Ryan Spain of Peoria. "And, unfortunately, they're leaving the state of Illinois."
Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker mocked critics for using previous Census bureau "estimates" that mistakenly foresaw Illinois losing a quarter-million or more residents. Pritzker pointed to "carnival barkers, people who've run down this state for years, who have said … we've lost hundreds of thousands of people over the last ten years. As it turns out, it's about 7,500 people."
Illinois has endured slow growth since 1940, when the state’s U.S. House delegation peaked at 27 members. It has lost seats since then in every Census but one. The House delegation will now fall to 17 in next year’s election.
Most great lakes states share a similar history. Among those losing House seats again this year: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Since the end of World War II, population growth has been far faster in parts of the south and west.
The first-ever population loss puts Illinois (down by 0.1%) in the same Census category as Mississippi (down 0.2%) and West Virginia (down by a stunning 3.2%.)
Those on the political right blame Illinois’ poor performance on policies pushed by Democrats who control every branch of state government. Illinois residents face a relatively high state and local tax burden. They also face up to a half-trillion dollars in debt for unfunded public employee retirement benefits.
Plus, dozens of state and local officials have gone to prison, including a bi-partisan group of Illinois governors.
"Being one of three states to carry this dubious distinction (of) losing population on a net basis, I sure hope it's a big wake up call for anyone that's involved in a leadership position for the state of Illinois," State Rep. Spain said.
Gov. Pritzker insisted he’s been awake. He said 169,000 new businesses were started in Illinois in 2020 and that Illinois is now poised for new era of growth.