Metro Chicago and Cook County losing increasing numbers of people to other places - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Metro Chicago and Cook County losing increasing numbers of people to other places

Flickr user jalbertgagnier

This luggage cart rack at O'Hare International Airport welcomes visitors to Chicago. However, growing numbers of departures and stagnant numbers of arrivals have plunged metro Chicago and Cook County into multiple years of declining population.

Increasingly, there are more people leaving metro Chicago for other parts of the country than the number of people who are moving here from elsewhere, according to a Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of recently released population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The difference in the arrival of new residents from other parts of the country and the departure of old residents to other places in the United States is called net domestic migration. For years, metro Chicago has experienced negative net domestic migration. But since 2013, that figure has nearly doubled.

That’s the principal reason why the Chicago metro area has lost population in each of the past three years—a rare feat for large metros. Among the nation’s 10 most populous metro areas, metro Chicago is the only one to lose population in any year since at least 2010.

Other large metros that are losing more residents to other parts of the U.S. are making up the difference with robust natural population growth (the difference between births and deaths) and strong immigration from other countries. But in recent years metro Chicago has experienced declining natural population growth and stagnant immigration from other countries, according to MPC’s analysis.

The same trends are behind an equally troubling decline in population for Cook County, metro Chicago’s largest county and the second most-populous county in the nation. In 2017, Cook County’s population fell by more than 20,000—the largest decline in population of any county in the U.S. It marked the fourth year in a row that Cook County lost population. That slide is largely the result of Cook County’s deepening loss of residents to other places.

Like metro Chicago, Cook County has experienced negative net domestic migration for years. And since 2013, Cook County’s negative net domestic migration has more than doubled. That trend puts Chicago’s home county in jeopardy of falling behind two of the fastest-growing counties (Harris County, TX and Maricopa County, AZ) in total population within the next 10 to 15 years.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released 2017 population estimates for the nation’s metropolitan areas and counties. In addition to the estimates, MPC reviewed Census data showing the components of annual population change—births, deaths, domestic migration and immigration—since 2010. That breakdown provided some clues as to why the population continues to slide in Cook County and metro Chicago, as a whole. Metro Chicago is comprised of 14 counties—nine in northeastern Illinois, four in northwest Indiana and one in southeastern Wisconsin.

Since 2010, the population of metro Chicago has increased by just 71,000 people. That’s a meager 0.76 percent growth rate dwarfed by the figures of other large metros like metro Houston (16.42 percent) and metro Dallas (15.15 percent). In each of those metros, the population has increased by almost 1 million people since 2010.

Those metros have benefitted from an influx of hundreds of thousands of residents from other parts of the country. The net gain in domestic migration since 2010 for metro Dallas is almost 370,000; it’s more than 270,000 for metro Houston. In contrast, metro Chicago has suffered a net loss of 480,000 residents due to domestic migration since 2010.

Such losses are even greater for the metropolitan areas of New York City (net domestic migration loss of 1.09 million) and Los Angeles (net loss of more than 500,000). However, in comparison to metro Chicago, both of those metros have attracted hundreds of thousands more new residents from other countries, and they’re also growing faster naturally.

The picture is similar for Cook County. The county’s deep losses to other places are not remedied by declining levels of natural growth and flat levels of growth due to immigration. Among the nation’s 10 most populous counties, Cook County ranks near the bottom in all three areas: eighth in international migration, eighth in domestic migration and ninth in natural growth. None of the other top 10 counties rank below sixth in all three categories.

If these trends continue, it’s likely that Cook County could lose its standing as the second most-populous county, potentially falling two places by the early 2030s, according to MPC’s analysis. And those changes could happen even sooner, if Cook County continues to lose population. Since 2010, both Harris County, TX, which currently ranks third, and Maricopa County, AZ, which currently ranks fourth, have grown 20 times faster than Cook County.

For sure, reversing the trend of population loss will require a more thorough understanding of why people are leaving the city, county and region. However, it will also require an understanding of why Chicago, Cook County and the metro area are not attracting as many newcomers from other parts of the U.S. and other parts of the globe. Furthermore, the declining natural growth numbers suggest that the region is aging and perhaps not maintaining a sufficient number of young families that could provide a foundation for population growth.  

MPC will continue to dig into the numbers to help get a better sense of these challenges. Starting this summer, MPC will release a series of reports to determine the state of the Chicago region—assessing its performance in as many as 30 indicators that illustrate the quality of life in six key areas: housing, education, safety, health, employment and civic engagement.

MPC will compare these metrics for the City of Chicago and the Chicago region with those of other large cities and regions. MPC will also provide a detailed view within the Chicago region to uncover any differences in various parts of the region and among various racial and ethnic groups.

Each year, these “State of the Region” reports can provide insight about metro Chicago’s strengths, weaknesses and trends. Our goal is to help residents and their leaders in government, philanthropy, business, community development, social services and civic activism chart a path of recovery for the city and the region.


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