The bad news about Illinois’ population problems hit the streets last week with the usual semi-apocalyptic headlines.
“New census numbers show another Illinois Exodus,” screamed the Chicago Tribune.
Past continues to be prologue, with 2019 the sixth-straight year that Illinois’ population declined while the populations of all its neighbors grew.
“Any way the data is sliced, Illinois is chronically losing its population and its tax base. It is a national outlier along with New York, New Jersey and Connecticut,” write Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner, analysts for Wirepoints.com, a state news and analysis website.
So say Dabrowski, Klingner and a lot of other people who study the numbers that are released every year by the U.S. Census Bureau.
But there is a very prominent, influential and extremely wealthy dissenter on the “Illinois Exodus” issue, one who disputes the notion that the declining numbers are either new or much to worry about.
Asked a couple months ago about the population declines during a question-and-answer session at the Futures Industry Association in Chicago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker suggested the hand-wringing is much ado about nothing.
“People talk about the exodus from Illinois, and they’ve blamed it on a lot of things, because we’ve lost population. Illinois lost population in 94 out of the last 95 years, so it’s not like it’s a new thing that we have a slight out-trickle of people leaving the state,” he said. “Nevertheless, I’d like to reverse it.”
Illinois has lost population in 94 of the last 95 years. The numbers don’t support Pritzker’s claim — in 1914, the state’s population was 6.1 million, while in 2018, it was 12.7 million, according to Macrotrends.
How can a state lose population in 94 of 95 years while adding 6.6 million residents? Obviously, it can’t — unless the person who argues it can tortures the facts to the point they are unrecognizable or is highly selective in what he does — or does not — cite.
Obviously, the words Priztker spoke torture the facts, if the Census Bureau’s news release is taken at face value.
But politicians like Pritzker occupy special places on the planet where the things they either say or don’t say are explained away by their public-relations representatives.
Pritzker’s spin doctors subsequently stated that what the governor said was accurate because what he didn’t say — but what he meant when he referred to “population lost” — is that in almost all of the past 95 years, hundreds of thousands of people have moved out of Illinois.
Of course, as some people moved out, others moved in. Meanwhile, some of those who were already here gave birth. Population numbers are determined by making a count after all that movement has been completed within a set time period.
The Census Bureau, even if Pritzker chooses to interpret the numbers in a different way, reported that the state’s net population — what’s left after all the gyrations — dropped by 51,250 between July 2018 and July 2019. That decline comes on top of the previous year’s net loss of 55,757.
Indeed, since 2013, Illinois has lost more than 223,000 residents.
But so what? Why should anyone care if these disloyalists head for greener pastures in states where the elected officials balance their budgets by not spending money they don’t have, pay their bills and work to ensure the state’s economy?
Orphe Divounguy, chief economist at the Illinois Policy Institute, explains
“A shrinking state means those who stay are left picking up the tab for government spending. If Illinois’ population growth had simply kept pace with the national average, its economy would have been significantly larger,” he said, noting that “in 2019, that larger economy could have generated as much as $3.45 billion in additional state tax revenues.”
An additional $3.45 billion in revenue for a state that’s effectively bankrupt is a big deal. In fact, it’s those kind of numbers that reveal why the state’s declining population is one of many big problems it faces.
Of course, that’s exactly why Pritzker suggested it’s nothing to worry about and his spin doctors rushed to explain that Pritzker didn’t really say what he clearly said. Pay no attention to that problem behind the curtain.
PolitiFact subjected Pritzker’s “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” analysis and gave it a remarkably generous rating of “half-true.”
It defines half-true as “partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.”