Because Illinois is losing population, we've lost six Congressional seats since 1980.
In 2014 Illinois was one of only six states to lose population, with most people moving to Indiana and Wisconsin. Well, we may be in a new year but we’re singing the same song.
From 2014 to 2015 Illinois lost more people than any other state: 22,194, or 0.2 percent of its total population.
Last year population growth was concentrated in the south and west United States, but not far behind were Midwestern states like Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Over the past five years—2010 to 2015—Illinois only grew by 0.1 percent, just under 19,000 people. To put that into perspective, just last year the Nashville region alone grew by almost twice that amount.
And the Blackhawks might have beaten the Penguins recently, but Pennsylvania is on Illinois’ heels to take our spot as fifth most populous state. The Keystone State narrowed the gap again last year.
There are many reasons why a growing population is important, including more tax revenues, transit riders, home sales, construction jobs, purchases at local businesses, the list goes on. Not to mention that Illinois and Chicago are places that could easily grow sustainably—we have access to one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world and a transit system to curb driving, and are free from the worry of rising sea levels, hurricanes and earthquakes.
And we need people: When they leave, so goes with them federal funding for housing and community development, roads and bridges, education, etc.—because those funds are doled out based on population. And another thing people don’t often think about: We risk losing congressional representation. In 2013, Illinois lost another congressional seat, down six since 1980. That’s one less leader supporting our state’s freight hub and ensuring Chicago’s transit system maintains its federal funding, which is always a battle. It’s one less leader advocating for special appropriations for Illinois levees and dams. There’s only so much money to go around.
We know the most important answer for making Illinois attractive again: Springfield has to get its act together. The budget impasse at the state impacts how many matching dollars we have to access federal grants and the fiscal uncertainty is a deterrent to new businesses and residents.
Illinois’ fiscal mess also makes certain we’ll continue to pay more interest on debt. The state’s low credit rating cost billions that could be spent on infrastructure. Investors use credit ratings to assess the ability of a state to repay bonds—the lower the credit rating, the greater the risk. A state with a low credit rating must pay more interest on its bonds to attract buyers willing to take that risk—and Illinois has the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation. One estimate shows that Illinois’ low credit rating means it pays additional interest of 0.2 percent to 2.0 percent on debt, resulting in $4 to $6 billion more in interest costs if it were to enact a new infrastructure plan—money that could be spent on an entire project, such as the reconstruction of the 72-year-old Red and Purple Line north, which has no funding.
Springfield needs pass a balanced state budget and invest in infrastructure—transit, schools, roads, water pipes and sewers—to improve transportation options and education and to stop wasting Lake Michigan water so we can instead use it as an economic development opportunity.
We can’t afford not to.