SPRINGFIELD — Figures recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau confirm what pollsters and demographers had already suggested: Illinoisans are making tracks for greener pastures.
The bureau’s state population estimates for 2014 indicate Illinois lost nearly 9,972 residents, or 0.08 percent of its population, from July 1, 2013, to July 1, 2014.
It appears this is the first time since the 1980s that the combination of births and inbound migration could not outstrip deaths and outbound migration.
The loss is small, analysts said, but the change itself is noteworthy because it indicates Illinois moved from sputtering population growth to actual population loss.
Illinois was one of six states losing population in the bureau’s 2014 estimates. The others were West Virginia, Connecticut, New Mexico, Alaska and Vermont, according to the report released Tuesday.
The last Illinois declines in the bureau’s tables for intercensal estimates — those years between the 10-year censuses — occurred in the 1980s. The last of those was a decline of 995 residents from July 1987 to July 1988.
The numbers amplify what Gallup pollsters said in April. Fifty percent of Illinoisans said if given the chance to move to a different state, they would. Nearly 20 percent said they already planning to depart.
“This census data further confirms that Illinois needs to undergo a total transformation in order to become pro-growth again,” said Mike Schrimpf, spokesman for Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner. “We’ve been in a downward spiral for years, and now is the time to reverse course.”
Rauner, a Republican businessman who rode to a November victory over incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn largely on a pro-business platform, faces sizable challenges.
Illinois is traditionally a slow-growth state to start with, said Wendell Cox, a demographics consultant based in Belleville.
Considering Illinois will never be a retirement winner when it comes to population, “We have to take a step back and look at what drives migration,” Cox said.
“We need to ask, ‘Why is it people move?’
“It’s economic opportunity,” he said. “It’s having jobs that people aspire to take.”
Encouraging job creation is going to be a big task given Illinois’ big fiscal problems, Cox said.
Among those problems is a $100 billion public pension deficit.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, agreed.
“Businesses dislike taxes, but they hate uncertainty,” he said. “Illinois has been hit with a ‘perfect storm’ of sorts over the last several years.”
Yepsen cited the state’s deficits and debts, slower recovery than most from the Great Recession and a declining manufacturing base.
“Now that things are picking up in general, it can’t be considered a surprise that many people in Illinois are packing up and looking elsewhere,” he said.
Yepsen said he also believes there is a cost to the image of corruption that Illinois has managed to reinforce with two of its last three governors — Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan — taking federal falls for acts committed while in public office.
Businesses already understand Illinois has to generate more revenue to cover its obligations, and they realize some of that will come from them, Yepsen said.
Neither the state’s economic problems nor the stigma of corruption can be cleared up overnight, but Illinoisans should wish the incoming governor some success, he said.
“Let’s face it: Everyone who lives in Illinois has some stake in this,” Yepsen said.
Illinois remained the country’s fifth most-populous state, according to the bureau’s 2014 estimates, with roughly 12.88 million people.
Closing on Illinois’ is Pennsylvania, with 12.8 million people. It gained an estimated 5,913 residents
National population increased by 2.4 million to 318.9 million, or 0.75 percent, according to the bureau’s estimates.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.