If you wonder what out-migration does to Illinois’ tax base, take a look at numbers compiled by Travis Brown, author of How Money Walks. They are devastating.


Between 1995 and 2010, based on data from the Census Bureau and and the IRS, 42 million Americans moved between states — about one-seventh of the population — taking with them $2 trillion of annual net adjusted gross income (“AGI”, as defined by the IRS). Florida, Texas, and other low tax states hit the jackpot. Illinois got hammered, along with California, New York, Ohio, and New Jersey.



Illinois lost 537,000 people who took with them $29 billion in annual AGI, a staggering loss to our income tax base. Keep in mind this is based on numbers through 2010, before the 66% increase in individual income taxes, which surely sped the exodus.


A nice interactive graphic of all the state data is linked here and a CNBC video with Mr. Brown about his work is here.


You should not be surprised. Earlier reporting showed Chicago has the second largest exodus of major American cities; Crain’s published numbers about revenue lost throughout Cook County; and data from van lines have shown the out-migration. This new work shows the direct impact on the state’s tax base, but surely the damage goes much further. Most of the income those taxpayers took with them likely would have been spent here had they stayed, buying goods and services here, employing more people…all of which would have generated more tax revenue.


On one particularly important point, Illinois government does not collect the data, probably because the results would be embarrassing.  Specifically, the exact numbers on how many high income taxpayers are leaving the state is are not collected, though the evidence that they are is overwhelming. Those numbers would be especially important to have because high income taxpayers are the ones tax increase proponents think they can soak to solve our fiscal mess.


“It’s a revenue problem” according to some — just raise taxes.  No. Higher rates will only spike the exodus and further erode our tax base.


Illinois is burning. Our problems remain worse than understood.


Mark Glennon

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7 years ago

Basically, the real reason why states fail are the unions. I live in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia is experiencing financial problems. However, the mayor is cutting back on may programs and hopefully, the city will eventually have a balanced budget – despite the unions. I looked at some of the pensions obligations in Chicago. Some people collect over100K a year. Police in retirement collect over 50K a year. Absolutely nowhere in the private sector do you have pensions of that magnitude. Quite the contrary. Most private firms have eliminate or curtailed pensions in lieu of 401K plans. How can public unions… Read more »

7 years ago

The taxes in Vermont are far more brutal, and they haven’t lost people. All the blue states pay more taxes to the feds than the red states which take more back from the Feds than they put in. This is an indicator of the high level of economic activity in the blue states. I would want to see more proof that it is not retirement, where people take the money they never could have earned in the south and spend it where it is cheaper and warmer to live.

7 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Fair points, but the main lessons are that people are leaving and they are taking lots of income with them.

7 years ago

Your article makes the common error of presenting correlation as causation. People have migrated from Illinois, that’s a fact. However, that does not prove it was because of taxes. In fact, Illinois is not a high tax state at all. Sure, some states have no income tax, but you can be sure they get their money in other ways. My daughter moved from Pittsburgh to rural Kentucky and expected to pay far less for auto insurance, as one example. Wrong! Kentucky charges multiple taxes on auto insurance and countless other services, as do many other states. You need real evidence… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  Opa

You can never prove causation. But when the correlation is there and people are saying they are moving because of taxes, you get a pretty good idea. Illinois is now, after the 2011 tax increase, a high tax state according to analyses that count everything — property taxes, sales taxes and the rest. Rankings on all taxes from various sources are collected here: http://illinoispolicy.org/blog/blog.asp?ArticleSource=6118

7 years ago

Oh, and love the new look. The content has always been awesome.

7 years ago

But people move for other reasons, right? Warm weather for retirees?

7 years ago
Reply to  TMS100

Yes, for sure. But look how clearly the migration is from high tax to low tax states, and combine that with how strongly people are saying they are moving for tax reasons. More importantly, while we could debate why they are moving, it’s undeniable that they are moving and taking our tax base with them. Let’s at least first get an honest understanding of how bad things are.

7 years ago

Should be front page news. Kudos for finding this.