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Saturday, February 22, 2020

In a shrinking state, Census sheds light on struggling cities

Their View

By Austin Berg, Illinois News Network | May 29, 2018

Rich Roth is moving his family from Clinton, Illinois to Arizona. He sold his house at a six-figure loss.

Rich Roth didn’t think his story would go viral. But a Facebook post with his photo and a quote from the longtime Clinton, Illinois, resident has reached more than 800,000 people since May 21, with more than 10,000 reactions and 8,000 shares.

“I’ve lived in Clinton since I was two years old,” Roth begins.

“The moving company is coming June 1. I sold my business as of this morning.”

Roth’s story – he’s moving his family to Arizona and sold his home for a six-figure loss – resonated. And that’s because too much of the state is in the same boat.

Clinton sits between Bloomington and Decatur, and it’s lost 5 percent of its population since 2010, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Illinois’ population has been shrinking for the last four years consecutively, driven by losing more people to other states than we gain.

The new Census data show 39 of Illinois’ 50 most populous cities shrank from July 2016 to July 2017. Half have shed population since 2010. And the state’s titan, Chicago, was the only major city in the country to lose population over the year. It’s seen fewer residents for the last three years running.

Among the Land of Lincoln’s largest cities, there should be particular concern for Rockford. Twenty miles from the Wisconsin border, it's been shrinking every year this decade, and has fallen to the fifth-largest city in the state this year from the third largest in 2015.

Peoria is another pain point. It saw the largest decline in population over the year among the top 50 cities, losing 1.3 percent of its population in a matter of months. One of Peoria’s largest employers, Caterpillar Inc., announced in January 2017 that it was moving its headquarters to the Chicago suburbs.

Mid-sized cities like Belleville and Decatur are seeing severe declines, both losing more than 5 percent of their populations since 2010.

So how does Illinois flip the trend?

Here’s something that isn’t helping: Proposed solutions to Illinois’ fiscal problems appear completely detached from reality.

First there was Chicago Democratic state Rep. Robert Martwick’s FRIENDLY Act, which outlined progressive tax rates that would hike income taxes on Illinoisans making as little as $17,300. More recently, the Chicago Federal Reserve proposed a property-tax-for-pensions plan where every homeowner would pay an additional 1 percent property tax to the state to pay down unfunded pension liabilities.

Under the proposal, the typical Illinois homeowner would pay more than $1,700 in additional property taxes to the state for the next 30 years to pay down the pension debt.

Who wouldn’t want to stick around for that killer deal?

“I saw the [Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s proposed] 1 percent tax. I shared it and tagged all my friends and said ‘my suggestion to you is just get the hell out of the state,’” Roth said.

Jobs and housing are the key to making any state more attractive. But the Land of Lincoln punishes small businesses and taxes homes at among the highest rates in the country. Illinois ranked 42 out of 50 states for jobs growth in 2017, and last among all its neighboring states.

When people can’t find good job opportunities in Illinois, they are too often forced to leave. And to take their place, too few have enough confidence in the state to move in from elsewhere and build a future.

Growing Illinois requires growing confidence. For state and local leaders, that means spending restraint, aggressive reform and renewed respect for taxpayers.

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