Lack of consensus at statehouse on how to reverse Illinois population loss

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) -- Lawmakers have yet to form any consensus on how to address the state's continuing population decline, even as a new study found the Land of Lincoln was one of only two states in the nation that lost population over the past decade.

The United States is growing, but a recent Pew Charitable Trusts study found that only Illinois and West Virginia reported population declines.

The report showed Illinois was slowly growing until five years ago, when the number of people moving out of the state surpassed the number of people moving in and the number of babies being born. Since 2008, Illinois’ net population has fallen by 6,000.

Related: Illinois and Iowa populations shift in opposite directions

State lawmakers have ideas on how to address the issue, but there's no united front.

State Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, said there are all kinds of reasons people leave the state.

“A lot of people are retiring to warmer climates,” Moylan said. “When you retire you want to go a warmer climate.”

Despite the city of Chicago having multiple years of consecutive population decline, Moylan said the Windy City is attracting new people.

“Chicago has the second most cranes, new buildings going up other than Seattle,” Moylan said. “All kinds of people are moving into Illinois because of opportunities, for jobs and to grow.”

He said for the rest of the state, it’s up to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his new team to visit and work with rural residents and leaders.

“And he has,” Moylan said. “Talk to stakeholders in those communities and see what they need so that he can provide them with the proper means to make their communities grow.”

State Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, said it’s not difficult to see what is making people leave Illinois, and it’s not the weather.

“When you have a hostile family environment, when you have a hostile business environment, when you have anti-growth policies, nobody should be surprised that people are leaving Illinois,” Miller said.

Miller suggested looking at the policies in states people where people are relocating to and work to mirror those policies here. Florida, for example, has no income tax.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, said the continued population decline is a concern. His answer is to invest in higher education and new industries in downstate Illinois to attract tourists.

“I think we got to get downstate flowing again,” Zalewski said. “I think we got to get property taxes under control. We do some of those things, I think people will start to see Illinois is an attractive place to grow a family.”

National Federation of Independent Business Illinois State Director Mark Grant said the state has to be business-friendly.

“As long as we keep heaping on the taxes and the regulations and everything else that small businesses have to deal with they’re going to stop opening businesses, and they’re going to close them, and they’re going to have to leave,” Grant said.

Illinois has lost tens of thousands of people to other states in for the past five consecutive years. Just in 2018 Illinois’ population declined by more than 45,000 in the 12 months ending last July, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. This was the largest population drop in the more than a decade.

Read: Illinois population falls for fifth straight year with decline of 45,000

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