Road to ruin

Road to ruin

Population shifts within the United States — who moves where and why — speaks volumes about how well the 50 states are governed.

The warnings keep coming. Illinois' elected officials keep ignoring them.

How long can this go on?

That's a reasonable question to re-ask after the latest shot across the bow of Illinois and other states that embrace similar slow-growth, no-growth policies.

Summarizing a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, economist Jonathan Williams reports that the agency's estimates of population shifts across the country bode ill for Illinois.

But it's not just Illinois that is in trouble in terms of population declines and their related effects on representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Census Bureau's estimates show that several states are in the same boat as Americans "vote with their feet" by moving from one state to another in search of, among other things, greater economic opportunities for themselves and their families and relief from high taxes.

Joining Illinois in trouble are big states like New York and California and small-state Rhode Island. Among those prospering most are Utah, Nevada and Idaho, while big states like Florida and Texas continue to flourish.

Williams reports that the main difference between successful and unsuccessful states is the extent to which they are economically competitive.

Do they impose high taxes on their citizens and preside over a business climate that is unfriendly to job creators or do the opposite?

Williams, chief economist of the American Legislative Exchange Council, said he uses those factors to link "migration to state-level policy decisions and economic competitiveness" and the information generated "gives a nice summary of estimates for congressional seat changes after the 2020 census."

"In general, states that keep taxes low and provide the competitive business climate perform far better than the states that follow the tax-and-spend approach," he writes.

Representation in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on population shifts. After the census is performed in 2020 — the federal government conducts one every 10 years — states' representation in the U.S. House is refigured with growing states gaining House seats while others lose seats.

Williams said Illinois is "the state with the largest downside risk" because it will certainly lose one member of its U.S. House delegation and "is in danger of being the only state in the U.S. to lose two seats."

Illinois' recent population loss — "the largest net population loss of any state in the past year" — pushed it down to the sixth largest state, replaced by Pennsylvania as No. 5.

"Major tax increases passed in 2017 will certainly not help this downward economic spiral," Williams said.

The bad news about Illinois is just more of the same. But it's surprising to see other states like California, the nation's largest, could "actually lose a congressional seat." That is a shocker, considering that California gained seven seats "between 1980 and 1990 alone."

Another high-tax state, Rhode Island, could lose one of its two congressional seats. If so, it would be the first time since 1789 that it would have only one U.S. House member.

New York also is expected to lose another U.S. House seat, marking the "eighth census in a row" in which it has lost at least one seat.

Where are people who leave California, Illinois, New York and Rhode Island going?

The census estimate says destination sites are Florida and Texas and other states "that are more economically competitive."

One of the great truisms about the U.S. immigration issue is that people from foreign countries come to the U.S. in search an opportunity for a better life. Less understood, Williams reports, is that those who move from one U.S. state to another move for the same reasons.

"Migration to pursue economic opportunity is a key takeaway from a decade of our research in 'rich states, poor states,'" Williams said.

What Williams reports, of course, all seems rather obvious. But does anyone expect Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Legislature to make any productive changes when the General Assembly reconvenes? Of course not.

Won't most of what they do involve political positioning for the November general election? Of course.

Unfortunately, our elected officials — collectively speaking — don't seem much bothered by the failing status quo, at least not enough to do anything meaningful about it. But given the latest report and the many others that preceded it, they will never be able to claim ignorance as the reason for ignoring the depth of Illinois' problems.

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