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By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

Don’t expect Illinois millennials to ignore the state’s collapsing finances for long. They’ll soon be asked to bear more and more of the financial and economic costs, from higher taxes to diminishing job prospects to cuts in funding for their kids’ schools. That’s when Illinois’ millennials will either fight back, as they’ve done on many national issues, or they’ll simply leave the state. It’s that simple.

A first sign of that fight came in a recent Crain’s opinion piece – A millennial’s call for fiscal sanity in Illinois. The author Thomas Dowling says “Our generation’s economic future will largely depend on Gov.-elect Pritzker’s ability to balance the state budget, which means solving the state’s pension crisis.”

Dowling seems to get how bad things are. He realizes that even the best-case pension scenario will still be painful for everyone. “Even with reform, residents under the age of 30 – my peers and the children of many of Pritzker’s transition team members – will pay for their parent’s unfunded liabilities for the rest of their lives. We will face the consequences of higher taxes and reduced government services. We are the ones that will shoulder the $129 billion for the foreseeable future.”

Dowling calls for Illinois millennials to get engaged. Kudos to him for the wake up call.

But the question of what exactly Dowling wants millennials to fight for remains. He doesn’t make clear whether he favors passing the tough reforms like a constitutional amendment so the state can restructure not-yet-earned pension benefits, or just more tax schemes and the pension “fixes” Pritzker is considering. (More on Pritzker’s progressive tax scheme and his potential pension fixes here, here and here.)

If Dowling favors more taxes and “fixes”, he’ll need to revisit his opinion piece – especially the line where he says, “We are the ones that will shoulder the $129 billion for the foreseeable future.” Dowling wrongly assumes Illinois millennials will stick around to pay the higher tax bills and face the cuts in services. But millennials are highly educated and an extremely tech-savvy generation. They don’t have to stay in Illinois to find their future.

The data already tells us they aren’t.

Illinois has lost a net of 107,000 millennials and their dependents to other states across the nation since 2012, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

It’s a stunning number.

Illinois can’t have a prosperous future without the next generation of emerging professionals, digital natives and echo boomers, as millennials are also known.

There’s no good analysis on why millennials leaving, other than anecdotes. But it’s safe to say that they’re finding better opportunities elsewhere.

Illinois finances and economy are lagging the nation, a consequence of too much debt, spending and corruption.

And Illinois is shrinking. The state has lost population four years running, a distinction shared with only West Virginia.

There will be fewer and fewer opportunities to succeed as the state’s negative trends accelerate.

And as millennials come to appreciate the debt load they’re expected to burden over the next two to three decades – the average Chicago household is on the hook for at least $125,000 in state and local pension debt – expect more of them to head for the border.

The millennial voice

The millennial voice could make the difference between whether Illinois fixes its pension mess or not. But what they demand from Pritzker, House Speaker Mike Madigan and the legislature will make the difference between whether the mess is fixed or just kicked down the road.

The worst thing millennials could do is push for more taxes – especially a progressive tax – and yet another set of can kicks. When that doesn’t work, highly-mobile millennials will flee in even greater numbers, leaving whoever is left to pay for the mess.

Which brings us back to Dowling and his call to action. He and other engaged members of this cohort are going to have to convince millennials to stick around for the fight.

At Wirepoints, we think Illinois is worth fighting for. But just like Dowling, we have to make the case for what Illinois need to do. We’re fighting for tough spending and pension reforms, including a constitutional amendment on pension benefits, not more can kicks. We hope Dowling and his peers will join us.

What millennials need to know about the pension mess, tax hikes and Pritzker’s plans:

On Pritzker’s’ proposals and progressive taxes:

On the pension crisis:

On tax hikes:

Cover Photo by Austin Blanchard on Unsplash

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Mike Williams

I cringe when I hear about young couples we know shopping for their first house in illinois. I hold my toungue because it’s obvious they are not interested in hearing about why that’s a bad idea.


Anyone considering buying in Illinois has to be mentally retarded,it is as simple as that. Mike, if they turn a deaf ear to you don;t lose sleep over it. Sometimes being burnt is a good learning process.


Millenialls need to fight the generational theft issue with a counter generational theft remedy. The issue perfect for millenialls is to back a retirement income tax, tit for tat.

Joseph Hillström

And maybe even a graduated tax on pensions so that those with pensions above a certain amount would pay at a higher rate. Two problems, however: (A) This would also prompt demands for tax on large 401(k) and (B) apparently Illinois can’t tax pensions paid to out-of-state residents and retirees have more mobility than most others. All the more need for a federal law that permits State bankruptcy and also that puts the “state approval” requirement into the hands of voters.


Why? Why should anyone pay any more? Taxes are high enough. I assure you that all payments can be made by eliminating public sector personnel and replacing them with private sector workers, or taking an across the board 25% wage cut, or by freezing wages in addition to selective position eliminations. Give me one reason a low-level(in terms of skill deployed in the workplace) custodian should get a municipal pensions and healthcare benefits in retirement? Why is my municipal billing department in the U.S vs India, Panama, or Vietnam? Why do we state elected office holders or elected municipal workers… Read more »

Mike Williams

Absolutely right PM. Any argument for new/higher taxes plays right into the liberal politicians hands. It shifts the conversation from the real issue of overspending. Sadly, I expect more of this ‘tax the other guy more’ mentality as the state finances worsen and people start to turn on each other.


If a progressive income tax is so important, it should apply to all types of income. If they want an exemption for a certain amount of retirement income (say the first $50,000), that same exemption should apply to regular income as well. That is true progressive values.

What would the support be for a progressive income tax IF retirement income were treated equally? I doubt you’d get over 50%.


According the judicial scum in Illinois the Illinois Constitution must be interpreted in strict fashion when it comes to public sector benefits but are so very willing to totally ignore the Illinois Constitution mandate that income tax must be flat in application. Where are the Statewide injunctions to protect the taxpayers against the various kickbacks and credits that already have created a graduated income tax? The readability clause is clearly violated when it is openly stated that you are trying to work around the flat tax nature and create a defacto graduate income tax. And just as a reminder, Illinois… Read more »


Fun facts:

– Illinois has a million more people living in poverty than Minnesota.
– Our poverty population equals 30% of Minnesota’s entire population.
– If you applied Illinois’ poverty rate to Minnesota’s population, you’d immediately add 180,000 people in poverty to their population.

How well would “progressive” Minnesota fair under Illinois’ social demographics?


Fun facts to digest while reading nixit’s fun facts:

IL is 61% White
MN is 80% White

IL is 14% Black
MN is 6% Black

IL is 17% Hispanic
MN is 6% Hispanic

IL is 6% Asian
MN is 4% Asian


Exactly, taxing retirement income in Illinois is touching the third rail for a politician, instant death. This issue is NEVER mentioned whenever taxes are discussed in Springfield. This is precisely why it is so powerful. Millenialls have a very valid argument in generational theft and in how they’ve been handed the bill after everyone else has eaten and left the table. Just the notion of getting Springfield to mention a retirement tax probability would instantly wake up a lot of folks. No more slow boiling of the frog with incremental and hidden fees. Show the state what a progressive tax… Read more »


Left seven months ago and haven’t looked back.

david longfellow

Tell them to stay the hell out of the South. Their parents have gutted their home state and we don’t need them here ruining ours.

Richard Broberg

The problem is that the millennials are so stupid they don’t realize that their votes for liberals have helped cause this problem. If they flee to anther state they will continue to vote for liberals and they will ruin that state. Then they will wonder why there are no more low cost of living states left.

Mike Williams

It’s certainly a possibility. It makes putting down roots and being a home owner risky. I’m leaning towards being a renter for the rest of my life so I can flee as needed. Overseas is always an option if all the states become like Illinois.

Travis Bickle

Why is the state worth fighting for? At least this state currently? Until it is washed of its its pension debt, corrupt political classes and many towns are consolidated, why stick around here?

The low taxes? The supportive business environment? Great weather?



The young are unaware of the large picture. The fact that every budget is a giant loan increase on them. Most don’t know what a bond referendum is or even care. They will go about their life in Illinois, take the jobs they get and think that is the best thy can do. If you are looking to get into your first apartment or first car or first job, the last thing you are thinking of is relocating out of state. It is up to parents to advise them, and job recruiters from out of state to pull them elsewhere.… Read more »

They have been conditioned to think that the Republican agenda is racist-and heartless. They further have been conditioned to think that big govt is economically efficient. Their confirmation bias is very strong. This combined with the inability of the Republican Party in Illinois to come up with a real agenda to win says the state is doomed. Watching the three Republicans on WTTW Chicago Tonight the other night shows the fractions. Establishment Republicans won’t go away yet they need to and the social conservatives won’t moderate, but they need to.

Connie Cain

A solutions-based approach, please.

Mike Williams

Connie, the solution is to leave Illinois and be happy that their are many other choices in the U.S.. Can you imagine how horrible a situation it would be if other states didn’t exist? The way you get change is thru elections and the people of Illinois just voted yet again for eventual financial suicide. Assuming you live in Illinois, you can either join them or leave asap.

Richard Broberg

Connie, if you leave Illinois and go to a red state don’t vote for liberals.


After living in The State Where the Governors Make the License Plates for way too long, I finally escaped. My only regret is that I didn’t leave sooner.

Richard Broberg

If voting changed anything it would be illegal.


I believe there is a another option not just fight or flight should be organize and then fight. Public unions have the advantage of being organized. Taxpayers do not. Definition of union is “An organized association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests” Just replace the word workers with taxpayers and then ordinary people may have a chance. Homeowners are being picked off one by one by obscene taxes. Either pay your taxes (or lose your home) or move. Lousy choice. It is bad enough that many have to chose between extremely high priced medications and… Read more »


Instead of putting all our eggs in the change-the-pension-clause basket, which probably won’t happen under JB rule, we should unite to ask for similar protections of our own retirements. Any tax increase, especially increases to cover pension costs, is a diminshment and impairment of our IRA’s and 401k’s. The taxpayer argument needs to be framed in such a manner.

At what point will someone invoke the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution?

Very interesting thought. Even if an actual legal claim based on that theory wouldn’t fly, the concept is absolutely sound.


great idea nixit. also seems a no-brainier inevitability the machine will push to tax ss, ira’s & 401k’s next to pay for pensions while public sector employees sacrifice not a dime. will be hypocritically hilarious to see how that is spun by pols and pc press to public. also state/ferich new Illinois secure choice ira is a after tax contribution roth ira instead of pre tax contribution traditional ira, so at some small level the states (even if indirectly thru local sales tax) is still collecting taxes thru ill secure choice on folks to pay for benefits we will never… Read more »


I didn’t realize Illinois Secure contributions are made on a post-tax basis. What a crock. Why would a state that does not tax retirement income setup a retirement account where the withdrawals are tax-free? Wouldn’t you want the tax benefit now?!

Mike Williams

Conservatives had an organized party of taxpayers called Republicans. The voters rejected that organization over and over. It would seem that those paying the bills are outnumbered by those on the receiving end. There’s no way to fight that scenario until those paying have no more money or have left Illinois. In a way, the best way to fight is to leave, at least for now. Those that remain will eventually be forced to confront reality.


Wow, great article Ted & John ! And young people should know there’s zero chance these pension plans can ever be adequately funded. It’s too late. Const Amndmt is necessary, and pensions must be cut.


The only way to save Illinois is to change the Illinois constitution. Get rid of that pension clause. Reform and limit pensions.


PM, in fact when someone on a progressive blog (capitalfax) states they are moving out of Illinois their response is always amazing. Typically it is “don’t let the door hit you….” you would sure think that these public union folks would be providing exactly what you are asking for. Nope, it is much easier to just ridicule those bolting. I think they just don’t believe there is a problem. Much like Cullerton, “the $130B liability? It’s just like a mortgage…” they are either clueless or really smart, just waiting for the chance to bolt themselves. Sad.


I am very curious about this comment:

“At Wirepoints, we think Illinois is worth fighting for.”

Why or better yet perhaps, what does Illinois have that you think is worth fighting for?

Very curious as to what you are seeing that Illinois has that is so unique as to warrant raising a fuss over.


Mike Williams

Good point PM. What does Illinois have that other states don’t? True… its has a few nice museums, a pretty lakefront, and it grows a lot of cheap, tasty corn. Is that really worth sticking around to fight? Do millennials really like corn that much?



A fair question that deserves a full answer. I may try to take a whack at it.


Mark, I would genuinely appreciate that. I am a hard fighter, but I just do not see any reason to waste resources on a pointless fight when you came genuinely progress by deploying your resource elsewhere. For example when I relocated my business interest, my employees (all earn 100K plus) relocated too, and shored up the purple state of Florida. People who are higher income and have in demand skill sets tend to be more conservative overall. I Noted that according to the local GOP my employees pull Republican ballots. So by moving from IL to FL they are in… Read more »

Mike Williams

PM, excellent comment. You seem to support my opinion that the best way to fight for conservatives is to leave to someplace where their vote matters. If Mark wants to write a piece on why Illinois is worth fighting for, you already have the opposing view well covered.

OK guys. I have my answer up as a Quicktake here:


I wonder if Thomas Dowling and the other millennial voices are aware Illinois doesn’t tax retirement income. It’s one thing to “pay for their parent’s unfunded liabilities for the rest of their lives,” it’s another thing to shoulder the entire burden.

You’d think the younger generations, especially the progressive darlings, would be pushing for the Boomers to pay up.

Mike Williams

Can you imagine how many retiree’s would leave Illinois if that happened? They wouldn’t even want to be renters, let alone home owners. If the millennials want to fight and make a positive difference, they need to focus on spending, not taxing. If the millennials lead an initiative to tax retirement income, they will simply be doing more of the same that got Illinois into this mess.


But if millennials are concerned about “revenue” equity, taxing retirement income is where they should start. No doubt it will have a detrimental impact on the retired set, but from a millennial perspective, it would level the playing field. I guess my point is most young folks are probably not even aware of this tax loophole.

Here are 2 questions I would love to see asked to anyone under the age of 35:

1) Are you aware Illinois currently doesn’t tax retirement income?
2) Should a retired person with the same income as you pay the same amount of taxes as you?

Mike Williams

Nixit, you make a valid point. Millennials could make a push for taxing retirement income in the interest of equity/fairness. If that happens, then I would argue some other tax should be reduced or eliminated, otherwise it’s just one more tax driving the taxpayers out of illinois. There is still plenty of more affordable housing for sale in Florida waiting for those Illinois retirees, and they don’t tax retirement income. Giving the Illinois retiree’s one more big reason to leave Illinois would hurt everyone in the state, including Millennials.

Platinum Goose

I think they should tax retirement income. Let’s make it so all the people with the big fat pensions have to pay up. If they threaten to leave, as they say “don’t let the door hit you”. And if they do leave what are we really losing, they’re receiving services and they’re not paying taxes. Tax income over XX,XXX.XX after deductions for a mortgage, RE taxes, health ins premiums, rent, etc.

Mike Williams

So Goose, the solution is more taxes even if it drives more people out of Illinois? You do realize that every retiree that leaves is one more person no longer paying any real estate tax, which is mostly for schools that retirees don’t even use. It’s also one less person paying sales tax, and other various fees. Yes, let’s try and find some group we don’t belong to and tax them instead of addressing the core issue of spending. You should run for office in Illinois. You’ll fit right in.

Platinum Goose

Actually I don’t want any more, or any higher taxes, like you said addressing the issue of spending needs to occur first. When it is time to raise taxes for these insane pensions then EVERYONE in the state needs to buck up, I can guarantee a graduated tax will hit me as well as many readers here. If you tax everyone then maybe we’ll start to raise awareness and get some better elected officials. As far as retirees leaving It won’t affect real estate tax because they can’t leave if they don’t sell their house, they’ll continue to pay the… Read more »

Mike Williams

If you were a retiree, would you stay where the state wanted to start taxing your source of retirement income, or would you relocate to a state that didn’t? If Illinois offered an overall environment that was better than other states, then staying might be preferable. Do you think Illinois does that, or will anytime soon? Perhaps failing to tax retirement sources isn’t fair, but a lot of things aren’t fair. Is it fair to tax childless couples for schools? Is it fair to tax people that make good financial choices to subsidize those that don’t? Argueing about fairness while… Read more »

Tim Newman

Not taxing retirement benefits is another part of the scheme foisted on taxpayers by the gangsters in Springfield. The public employee benefits are constitutionally guaranteed. Retirement benefits are not taxed by the state. The benefits were overpromised and underfunded. Benefits are constantly granted to the undeserving. Schemes to boost pensions like vacation and sick pay crammed into the final year salary are rampant. It’s just a parade of greed at the treasury of the public trough. Then we get militant public unions demanding more. Clueless voters elevate Democrats to a super-majority in both houses in Springfield. That was simply stunning… Read more »

Mike Williams

I see no reason to believe Illinois is ready to deal with it’s overwhelming debt. Are any elected leaders talking about changing the constitution? How many fiscal conservatives hold elective office? A reasonable assumption is that things are going to get much worse before they get better. If a millennial gets comparable job offers in Illinois and other states, they would be wise to leave Illinois and build a life elsewhere. Millennials have the least reason to stay and fight. They didn’t create most of the mess. Why should they pay for it?
FYI: I’m a baby boomer

Mark M

Illinois’ public universities, save for University of Illinois and Illinois Chicago and perhaps Illinois State have seen remarkable enrollment declines. That may be due to a number of factors, including perceptions of poor value and concerns over the status of Illinois’ economy, but it is yet another indicator of millennial flight. People ask what made it worth it to stay in Illinois. When I was raised in Illinois in the 70’s, in addition to Lake Michigan and the industry and higher educational opportunities in Chicago, what made a difference was a Midwestern work ethic. The culture has changed, and the… Read more »


Do millennials aspire to attend EIU, WIU, SIU, NEIU, Chicago State? Doubtful. If you were an Illinois college-bound student and we’re going to have to take out college loans anyway, wouldn’t you go somewhere different? Why go to the sticks (Charleston, Maccomb) when there are warmer climates, mountains, etc? Conversely, why would a kid from Virginia or New Mexico want to attend EIU? For parents, after paying usurious property taxes to support your kids’ school district for 13 years of education, do you think a proper reward is…Eastern Illinois?! Screw that. Our universities need to take a hard look at… Read more »


Why would anyone go to a College (University of Illinois)where the pension/retirement costs are 53% of their budget?
Let’s say the student has $60,000 of debt after graduating. Of that debt, $31,800 went right into the pension account. Does that sound like a good deal for the student?

Mark M

Mr Common Sense

Although very few prospective students break it down the way you did, no doubt the statistics you cite significantly impact bottom line decisions. Don’t count on faculty understanding the grievous nature of the problem. They all vote one way, emotionally believe wealth should endlessly be distributed to their benefit, and are the main beneficiaries of a student loan system where students, err, financial conduits, provide these apparatchiks with funds so they don’t have to evolve, compete, or become efficient.


Bernie Sanders is the hero of the Millennial voter. 1 reason: Student loans. These people are buried in debt.

Mark M

The decline at Illinois publics has taken place over the years, and millennials and their slightly younger cohorts have been, and will be, rejecting Illinois these Illinois public schools. They know the score in Illinois, and the younger set has fewer fixed connections and find migration decisions less complicated. In any event, in a sound political and fiscal environment, the directional state schools could have a lot to offer (not everyone is a 30 ACT student). These schools in my view are and will be a bell weather for the health of the State. I am not positive about their… Read more »