More Stories from the Illinois Exodus

Friends share their reason for leaving (or planning to leave) the Prairie State.

Last week, I posted stories from what I call the “Illinois Exodus,” an outward migration of Illinoisans to other states. As someone who left Illinois to pursue better career opportunities, I’ve been interested in why so many of my friends and acquaintances have left Illinois for greener pastures. As of December 2019, Illinois as a whole saw six straight years of population loss. This decline has real consequences for the state’s political clout on the national stage, something its elected leaders seem not to have taken into consideration while steering it off a cliff.

As I noted before, Illinois currently has 18 U.S. representatives in Congress. In 1980, it had 24. As a result of the 2020 census, Illinois will likely see that number decline even further. The number of a state’s presidential electors in the Electoral College is also determined by population (technically it’s tied to the number of congressmen). In the 2000 presidential election, Illinois had 22 electors, while Florida (for example) had 25. In 2016, Illinois had 20 and Florida had 29.

Because Florida has seen a massive surge in growth and development over the past few decades, it will have a huge impact on the 2020 election and future presidential elections. Illinois? Not so much.

The trend is clear: the number of people moving out of Illinois is growing while the number of people moving to Illinois is declining. According to population estimates and the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois lost the equivalent of a large city (223,308 people) between 2014 and 2019. That’s like more than the entire population of Aurora, Joliet, Naperville, or Rockford just up and leaving.

But these are only statistics. To understand why people are leaving Illinois, you have to talk to individuals and families about what is motivating their exodus. One of my friends, Tracey, now a realtor in Florida, told me taxes were a big factor for why her wife and she moved from Illinois to the Sunshine State. “I left because I was tired of the winters and tired of the taxes,” she said. “It was uber expensive and it felt like everything was taxed. Our personal property taxes were a killer… Our taxes are less here for a more expensive house. In 2014 they were $12k. When we moved here in 2015, we paid about $4500.” However, she noted the cost of insurance is nearly double in Florida.

Others were concerned about restrictive laws and Illinois not being a friendly state for gun owners. Matt, another friend who moved to Tennessee in the past year (read Steve’s story in Part 1), told me it was difficult to leave family behind but he was frustrated with the high taxes, dysfunctional politics, and anti-gun legislation in Illinois. Tennessee was a middle-ground for visiting their extended family in Rockford, Illinois and Florida.

“I moved my family from Rockford just over 1-year ago,” he told me. “Illinois had been unable to pass a budget for a long time. I really thought that with a Republican governor we were finally going to see the state government spend money frugally. Instead, Democrats refused to make any concessions. And Rauner, who I had hoped was going to act as a rude awakening for a state whose Democratic leadership have had it headed toward total bankruptcy, became somewhat of a joke. With Madigan still involved in the State’s government, there’s no way Illinois can be saved.”

“I’m a competition shooter. I shoot USPSA and 3-gun matches year round. That last year under Rauner… the bills they were trying to push through were disgusting. And it wasn’t just that, they were totally ignorant and refused to listen to anyone who could have helped improve them. It became glaringly clear that their agenda was to remove guns from the hands of legal gun owners and NOT prevent gun-related homicide. Every time, Chicago was being ignored. Black Americans were being ignored. It was shameful. If just one of the 5 to 7 bills that were put to vote had passed, I would not have been able to shoot in competitions or own more than half my guns.”

Eric lives in Chicago with his wife and five children. He’s strongly considering moving across the border to Indiana to take advantage of a lower cost of living. “We’re seven people on a single income,” he told me. “My house here is adequate, but run down. In Indiana I should be able to afford more space in better condition for the same amount of money as my house here. Our property taxes have already increased since we’ve been here, and are likely to do so again. Not only are they significantly lower in Indiana, they also have a cap so that they cannot be increased.”

Eric is also worried about educational freedom. “The left also is making a much more aggressive push against homeschooling,” he said. “Right now Illinois is one of the best states for homeschoolers, but I no longer have confidence it will be in 10 years…”

In Indiana, Eric and his family can enjoy the same relaxed rules regarding homeschooling and save $2,413 in property taxes for an identically-priced home of median value in Illinois. Illinois property taxes are the second highest in the country.

You can see the effect the stranglehold of high taxes and regulation have had over the past few decades. Growth in Illinois has been far outpaced by low tax and business friendly states like Florida. The populations of Illinois and Florida were roughly identical in 1985. Since then, Illinois had experienced moderate population growth, but Florida has really taken off. Florida now has an estimated population of 21.4 million compared to 12.67 for Illinois. That has directly translated to more political clout in Washington, DC.

Illinois recently passed a budget that relies on a $5 billion relief package from the federal government to cover the shortfall. If Illinois continues on its current path, how successful do you think it’s dwindling number of Congressional representatives will be in securing future funding from the feds?

I don’t know what the solution is for Illinois’ political gridlock, but I do know that unless Illinois embraces pro-growth policies, lowers taxes, cuts unnecessary spending, and makes its laws more attractive to current and potential residents, it’s going to continue seeing this negative trend. I loved Illinois and I wanted to see the state improve. I never expected to see so many friends move away. I never expected to move to another state. But in the end, everyone makes decisions they think are best for themselves, their family, and their future.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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