Even before COVID-19, only one state and one U.S. territory experienced slower growth among their immigrant populations
It’s no secret Illinois is facing population loss. For seven years in a row, the Prairie State has lost thousands of residents. Illinois lost 1.3% of its total headcount from 2010 to 2019, a decline of nearly 200,000 people. Illinois’ population loss is especially concerning when it comes to one group: immigrants. Our state’s economy and workforce growth depends on immigrant populations. We rely on a healthy influx of new Chicagoans from across the world to join and contribute to our community.
Without strong immigration inflows we are not only losing workers, consumers, and valued community members, but risk divorcing ourselves from our region’s robust history as a city of migrants.
By losing immigrants Illinois loses cultural vibrancy, talent, and even tax revenue, which has major implications for the state and the Chicago region.
Analyzing available American Community Survey data from the last decade offers some insights to the demographic changes in our state has undergone from 2010 to 2019. These statistics predate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021, so the real-time data may be even more alarming. Here's what we know:
Only one other state (West Virginia) has lost a larger percentage of residents
Illinois is the one of the most populous states, but is one of the only states with a declining population. From 2019 to 2010 Illinois saw falling population counts, most notably a 200,000 person drop in White residents and a 100,000 fall in Mexican Immigrants. Growth in other immigrant populations, as well as a growing domestic Latinx popilation has mitigated decline.
When it comes to many indicators of growth over the past decade, Illinois is squarely in the middle, but our standing as an immigrant friendly state is slipping. Here is where Illinois stands on some basic measures compared to other U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and D.C.:
Illinois witnessed the slowest growth of almost any state in terms of immigrant population
Only two other geographies saw less growth: Puerto Rico and New Mexico.
The growth of the immigrant population over the decade has slowed to a crawl, with a net growth rate of 0.4%.
While Illinois’ indicators of slow growth has not generally shifted the state’s placement in national rankings on indicators such as median household income and unemployment, lower growth rates compared to other states signal that they will likely overtake Illinois eventually. Take educational attainment. Illinois has a growing educated population, with more and more residents holding Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. In 2010, 30.8% of residents had at least a Bachelor’s degree, in 2019 that grew to 35.8%. When it comes to graduate degrees, 14.1% of Illinoisans held a graduate-level degree in 2019, up from 11.5% in 2010. This puts the state at the edge of the top quartile in educational attainment, with relative growth on the low end. Both growth rates rank at 35th, indicating many other states are attracting educated individuals or are investing in educating their populations more than Illinois. Education is the most notable amongst these factors, but it should serve as a warning of declining rank in the future as states with better growth overcome Illinois.
Foreign-born residents are crucial to Illinois’ economic growth
Immigrant populations are essential in our economy, as they are a central part of our workforce. A previous investigation has warned of declining populations of immigrants in Chicago. Without strong immigration inflows we are not only losing workers, consumers, and valued community members, but risk divorcing ourselves from our region’s robust history as a city of migrants.
The growth of the immigrant population over the decade has slowed to a crawl, with a net growth rate of 0.4%. From 2010 to 2019 Illinois has seen a net addition of only 6,622 immigrants. By comparison, in the 1990s Illinois gained a net 576,786 immigrants. It seems as if immigration in the Prairie State is coming to a standstill. This is clearest at a fine grain, when comparing naturalized and non-citizen populations.
While there are more immigrants naturalized as U.S. Citizens, Illinois has a declining population of non-citizen immigrants. The growth in the naturalized population is good; however, the slow growth of non-citizen immigrants is not. Contrary to fear-based narratives about immigrants, the majority of non-citizen immigrants ultimately eventually become citizens and serve as a crucial part of the growth of the total labor pool. Slow growth does not help prepare the state for a healthy economy in the future. Illinois' Mexican-born immigrant population had dropped 15% over the past decade, a 107,000-person loss equivalent to the population of the City of Elgin or the Lakeview community area in Chicago.
As immigration from Central America declines, it follows that the foreign-born Latinx population is dropping. In 2010 46.5% of Immigrants identified as Hispanic or Latino, while 41.3% of Immigrants identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2019. As such Illinois lost 11% of its Latinx immigrants in the last decade. Decline in Latinx Immigrant population is a nationwide phenomenon, where Illinois ranks 11th in intensity of decline. Meanwhile, there is a new growth trend with regard to Asian immigrants, from 23% to 27.1%, reflecting a 17.8% growth rate over the decade. For the first time, the Asian immigrant population outnumbers White immigrants.
Conclusion: We need to understand the decline in immigrant population growth and reverse the trend
Looking at vulnerable populations, like immigrants, poverty rates are relatively high for non-citizen immigrants. While the general population has seen a decline from 10.1% to 7.9% of families living in poverty over the decade, non-citizen immigrants have seen a decline from 21.7% to 15.2% of families living in poverty. This is a great step in the right direction, but this means non-citizen immigrants are twice as likely to live in poverty.
Illinois' Mexican-born immigrant population had dropped 15% over the past decade, a 107,000-person loss equivalent to the population of the City of Elgin or the Lakeview community area in Chicago.
With the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to support policy that brings opportunity to all Illinoisians, connecting people to jobs and their needs. We need comprehensive immigration reform at the Federal level, as our approach—particularly over the past four years—has not helped Illinoisans. There is a cumulative impact of the many burdens immigrant communities face, which is why policies that ensure home affordability and decent and safe infrastructure are important to keep immigrant populations rooted in Chicago and the region. Some related MPC policy priorities include modernizing the Earned Income Tax Credit, which puts more money in the pockets of working class Illinoisians, along with promoting affordable and quality housing near transit, advancing equitable Transit Oriented Development (eTOD). Additionally, after an era filled with strong anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies under the Trump administration, new policy should encourage growth of immigrant populations in our communities across Illinois and the country. This should include open doors to immigrants, an end to detention and deportation, and pathway to citizenship for all immigrants. As the economic toll of COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, Illinois must implement interventions to preserve opportunity and affordability to slow the looming decline.
Stay tuned for more work tracking our changing state as we move into finer grained analysis across Illinois and comparing Chicago Metro to other major U.S. Metro areas.
 For the purpose of this post, the term ‘immigrants’ refers to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen at birth, including those who become U.S. citizens through naturalization. The U.S. Census Bureau uses the term Foreign-Born to describe this population characteristic.
 Naturalized citizens include those who have become U.S. citizens through the naturalization process.
 Non-U.S. Citizens include lawful permanent residents, temporary migrants (such as persons with student or work visas), humanitarian migrants (such as refugees and asylees), and undocumented migrants.
 According to the Census Bureau the term Central America includes Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama.
 White immigrants in Chicago are largely from Europe,