By: Mark Glennon
You’d think we’d be past this, but we are not. The same voices that have denied Illinois’ horrendous trajectory for years are still at it.
The latest example is Tuesday’s article by Greg Hinz on the state’s population loss, which is now seven years old and accelerating, according to last month’s Census Bureau estimate. Hinz is Crain’s political reporter and commentator.
“Political spinners had a first-class feast” on the new census number, Hinz wrote, and he proceeded to give us his alternative views. Because Hinz is not alone in much of his denial, it’s worth going through this point by point.
- Hinz quarreled with a claim that politicians, “Instead of looking for more in taxes, should fix the state’s finances,” particularly underfunded government pension plans. No, argued Hinz, reversing the state’s population loss will require lots more than a tax cut, and the population issues are complex.
For starters, I’ve never seen a single person claim that tax cuts alone would restore growth. Government incompetence, bloat, graft, crime, broad moral decay and more have Illinoisans fed up, and Illinoisans are finding better opportunities elsewhere — which is a consequence of all the foregoing. Hinz attacked a straw man and ignored the very wording of the quote he disagreed with.
If Hinz really wanted to measure what role high taxes are playing, you’d think he’d at least mention the obvious – what people say. About half of Illinoisans say they want to move and taxes are their number one reason. That’s according to the last poll on the question, conducted by the Paul Simon Institute in 2016. Tax discontent is no doubt worse today because, since 2016, the income tax was permanently increased, property taxes soared and a range of higher sales taxes and fees have been imposed.
- Hinz says Illinois’ population loss is really no big deal because the gains in other major industrial states have been small.
There is no scenario for restoring Illinois to stability – none – that does not include growth, which requires growing both the population and tax base concurrently. Regardless of whether you think the shrinkage is small or large, it just won’t work. And Illinois’ population loss makes it an outlier. The chart below is from our special report last year on Illinois’ population loss. This is no small problem:
- Part of Illinois’ population decline is due to the drop in immigration during the Trump Administration, Hinz says, noting that population isn’t just a matter of people fleeing but of net international and domestic migration, plus internal changes.
Obviously, however, the drop in immigration from abroad affects all fifty states, yet all but Illinois, West Virginia, New York and Connecticut have grown nevertheless. And as our full report pointed out, Illinois is suffering because all three factors are unfavorable – net domestic migration, net international migration and internal demographics. (See appendix)
- Hinz blows smoke on the problem by saying the population loss is concentrated downstate and therefore somehow of less concern.
While the problem may be worse downstate, 93 of Illinois’ 102 counties lost population from 2010 to 2018, including Cook County. A problem is a problem wherever it is concentrated.
- Hinz cites Dan Cooper of the progressive Metropolitan Planning Council to identify what he says is the true source of the population loss: inequality, which “is our No. 1 problem,” according to Cooper.
The claim that Illinoisans are fleeing because of inequality is not new to progressives, but it’s unfounded. The most commonly used measure of inequality is called the Gini coefficient, which measures the gap between rich and poor. But Illinois’ Gini coefficient is exactly the same as the national average and tied with Texas and Florida, two of the fastest growing states. Look at the rankings of all 50 states and it’s immediately clear that there seems to be no connection between inequality and population trends.
And how about some common sense on this. In all the quotes you’ve probably seen from employers and others who have fled Illinois, have you seen even one say it’s because of inequality? Warren Buffet, probably the most famous investor on the planet, told CNBC that he wouldn’t relocate to Illinois because it would be “walking into liabilities.” Sorry, but it’s not because of inequality that investors like him and employers, along with the jobs and people that follow along with them, are shunning Illinois.
At least Hinz didn’t blame the weather for Illinois’ population loss, as many still do. But in case you are wondering, while weather is no doubt a factor, it hasn’t prevented our neighboring states from growing, as you can see here:
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.