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For some folks, trashing Illinois has become a perverse pleasure

Monday, May 23, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Illinois peaked at 27 U.S. House seats after the 1910 Census and subsequent reapportionment. That lasted until the 1940 Census, when Illinois dropped to 26 seats.

We’ve been steadily losing ground ever since. It’s not that we lost population, it’s that other states in the West and the South grew much faster. California had just 11 congressional districts as a result of the 1910 Census. It now has 53.

Our downward trajectory has often been demoralizing, but even more so during the past decade as professional naysayers trumpeted annual Census estimates that showed huge, six-figure population losses.

By December 2020, those annual Census estimates showed Illinois had lost about 240,000 people, or 2% of its population.

“Illinois is a deepening population sinkhole flanked by states that are adding people, businesses, jobs,” the Chicago Tribune editorial board opined. “The estimated Illinois population is 12,587,530, down more than 240,000 since the 2010 census. That’s more than Waukegan and Naperville, combined.”

The paper went on: “So tell us again, Democratic power brokers who rule Illinois. Tell us what great jobs you’re doing. Tell us that these worsening annual population losses aren’t an indictment of anti-jobs, high-spending policies. Tell us it’s just snowbirds fleeing the weather here. Tell us you need to keep raising taxes.”

When the official 2020 Census count showed those previous estimates were wildly wrong and Illinois’ net population loss was “only” 18,000 people, those same folks either changed the subject or harrumphed that, whatever the case, Illinois was still a net loser and had fallen to the rank of sixth-largest state behind Pennsylvania.

To this day, political candidates and pundits still regularly trumpet our losses as evidence that we are a state in horrific decline while offering simplistic policy prescriptions based on numbers that have, as of last week, turned out to be more inaccurate than we ever knew.

As you probably know by now, the Census Bureau admitted last week that it had screwed up Illinois’ decennial headcount, and the state actually grew by about 250,000 people – that’s almost a 500,000-person swing from the December 2020 estimate.

We’re back to being the fifth-largest state and our population has surpassed 13 million people for the first time ever.

“This is excellent news,” Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement issued hours after the Census Bureau admitted its blunder. “It confirms what most of us already know: Illinois is a great place to live and work. We need more people cheering for Illinois and fewer spelunking for misery.”

I cannot imagine anyone actually cheering for Illinois. We’re just not that way here. Pessimism is in our collective bones, partly because it has been beaten into our beings for so many years by opinion leaders, and partly because, well, we do indeed suck at so many things.

In reality, more people leave Illinois in search of greater economic opportunities, lower costs of living or even better winter weather than move here. It’s still a problem that must be dealt with.

But this eager acceptance of Illinois’ decline as an overwhelming cold, hard scientific fact needs to be reexamined by the news media, which has repeatedly perpetuated what has apparently turned out to be a widely believed myth.

The Tribune has almost seemed to revel in the stories of Illinois’ population loss. And where the Tribune goes, so goes most of the rest of the state’s news outlets.

You don’t have to cheerlead for Illinois. Nobody would buy that, anyway. But the almost perverse pleasure some get at running down this state’s already bad reputation needs to be called out.

And what about those annual population estimates, which turned out to be almost half a millions Illinoisans below the final number released last week?

U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi sits on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Census Bureau. Back in January, Krishnamoorthi asked the Census Bureau for a methodological review of its annual state population estimates.

Last week, Krishnamoorthi again pressed the Census Bureau for answers, this time about why Illinois was so grossly undercounted in the decennial census. The agency owes him, and the rest of us, some answers.


Meanwhile, the Illinois Policy Institute surmises that the reason for the 2020 undercount is that the 2010 census must’ve been off. Yeah, that’s it. The Census Bureau also took another look at the 2010 count and revised Illinois’ population by half a point.

* Meanwhile, Crain’s scolds everyone

The census snafu should have given our elected officials and the economic teams who work for them cause to take no more than a five-minute victory lap and perhaps enjoy one round of “I told you so’s.”

Got that? You can be happy for no more than five minutes! After that, we must all return to harrumphing. “I didn’t get a ‘harrumph’ outta that guy,” said Crain’s, probably.

* And after years of finding individual people to tell their anecdotes about why they’re leaving Illinois, the Tribune finally quotes someone who says otherwise

Brooke Landrum came to Chicago from Cincinnati in 2016 to attend Loyola University, and after graduation she decided to stay and settle into the bustling Lakeview neighborhood.

That put Landrum among the influx of newcomers who helped Illinois’ population grow by about 250,000 between 2010 and 2020, according to updated census figures released Thursday. The new estimate stands in contrast to the oft-expressed belief that the state is hemorrhaging people, and matches what Landrum, a 23-year-old market research analyst, has experienced on the North Side.

“I’m apartment hunting right now and all the decent ones get snapped up in 24 hours,” she said. “It’s so quick. It’s not a sign of people leaving.”


  1. - Grandson of Man - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:42 am:

    Things are so much better now than under the spelunkers, who deliberately shut us down to try to force their right wing remake of Illinois. We ain’t Irvin.

  2. - Arsenal - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:42 am:

    ==And after years of finding individual people to tell their anecdotes about why they’re leaving Illinois, the Tribune finally quotes someone who says otherwise…==

    I really wish the media and policy shops would spend more time analyzing Chicago’s role as a brain drain for the midwest. How do we support that? Can we make it go further? Can other towns in IL replicate it?

    But that, of course, would be a discussion of how to actually make Illinois better, not just another expression of the “Can we make Bruce Rauner Governor For Life?” agenda.

  3. - Homebody - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:44 am:

    There is a significant number of people who combine both perverse unhappiness with everything, with an overwhelming refusal to try to improve anything.

    If you are unhappy with something, you should be trying to change it. If you’re not trying to change it, get out of the way of people who are.

  4. - Big Dipper - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:44 am:

    The Trib ed board needs something to say on the days when it is not pretending that Tier 2 never happened (or praying for a hurricane). I noticed that they have piped down about what they viewed as the extravagant three percent annual pension increase now that inflation makes that modest number a loss in buying power.

  5. - Norseman - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:45 am:

    Great article. It should be pasted on the wall of all spelunkers of misery.

  6. - Lt Guv - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:48 am:

    Sing it to the choir brother (banned punctuation here).

  7. - Give Me A Break - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:49 am:

    I don’t think any facts will change their screaming at the wind. Just listening any talk show shows the callers have “Illinois is going down the tubes” ingrained in their minds. And for that matter, so do many of the local “talk show hosts”.

    Here in Springpatch, listening to the Sam Madonia show in the morning will lead you to believe we are living through the dark ages, the black death plague, great depression, WW II, dust bowl and end of civilization. Madonia and his callers are nothing but gloom and doom the world in ending talk. Illinois citizen’s need some perspective.

  8. - Back to the Future - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:55 am:

    Really good article that should serve as a wake up call for those that are always critical of Illinois.
    Of course we have our problems, but always being negative about all things Illinois is just not accurate or useful.

  9. - 47th Ward - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:55 am:

    “ The census findings last year showing the population decline underscored a major contention, made mostly by Republicans looking to criticize Illinois’ Democratic government leaders, that people are fleeing the state due in part to high taxes and crime.”

    John Keilman forgot to add his newspaper and it’s editorial board. It should read, “made mostly by this newspaper in support of Republicans attacking Democrats…”

  10. - Stix Hix - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:57 am:

    The Illinois naysayers are people that are just plain unhappy, and down deep they are unhappy with themselves. I’ve lived in four states and am very happy to be living in Illinois. We have made a very good life for ourselves here. (Not gonna talk about our two-year sentence in Texas).

  11. - SweetLou86 - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 9:59 am:

    I apologize ahead of time for getting on my soapbox, but it’s crazy that any state’s population can grow and yet lose representation. This only serves to dilute representation and further isolate voters from their representatives. The size of Congress was arbitrarily capped in the 1920’s and the US population has exploded since. It’s long past time for Congress to revisit the number of seats in the Chamber and consider adopting the Wyoming Rule.

  12. - PublicServant - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:00 am:

    Come to Illinois. We have water.

  13. - H-W - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:03 am:

    =In reality, more people leave Illinois in search of greater economic opportunities, lower costs of living or even better winter weather than move here. It’s still a problem that must be dealt with.=

    And of course, you can’t change the weather, at least, not in a controlled manner. I moved to Illinois in Aug. 1996. I remember that first winter, when the ambient low temperature dropped to -20 degrees, and stayed there for several days. At that time, my first thought was, “My God! Why do people live here?” And that was Decatur, not further north.

    In reality, I will be moving away in a couple years, back to my native state of Virginia. I will be leaving, not for the mythical higher taxes. Yes, they are mythically higher. In fact, each state I have lived in has had all sorts of weird ways to tax citizens, from local car decals to personal property taxes to local income taxes (none of which I have ever paid in Illinois). I will leave Illinois in a couple years for three obvious reasons: retirement, family ties, and of course, the weather. But mostly for family ties.

    And I personally will leave Illinois, a place I will have lived for 30 years, with very, very fond memories of this state. I was born and raised in Virginia, and have lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and New York (briefly). Without a doubt, Illinois is the finest place I have lived. If we could only change the weather.

  14. - Anotherretiree - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:03 am:

    ==We have water== Google US Drought monitor to see why this is a good place to be going forward. Also Lake Meade water level to see the insanity of Las Vegas.

  15. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:08 am:

    “We have water”

    Yep. Climatologists at NOAA predicting a great migration over the next couple of decades from the 40% of US that lives on coasts to the interior of the nation.

  16. - Juvenal - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:10 am:

    There are about 4.25 million Black and Latinx residents of Illinois, according to the revised figures.

    They only counted 4 million the first time around.

    1 in 17 were not counted, that’s pretty awful. Not 3/5, but pretty awful.

  17. - Blake - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:13 am:

    On H-W’s point, the Tribune link acknowledges the greater growth rates in TX & FL are a problem for the Midwest. Weather, terrain, large bodies of water are factors in where people live & put us at a disadvantage. Due to these natural amenities, I think IN & IA are better comparables for whether we’re getting good policy, but our Congressional representation is still affected by the whole country’s growth rates.

  18. - Roman - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:23 am:

    The historic framing in Rich’s column is what’s important here.

    The state’s population trend relative to the rest of the nation just hasn’t changed all that much for almost a century now. You can even take it back further than that if you want. Since the nations founding, it’s population center has moved gradually west and south. De-industrialization, transportation advances, and — maybe most significantly — air conditioning have hasten the trend since WWII.

    The Republican efforts to politicize this were always bogus, just as JB bragging about reaching 13 million Illinoisans for first time is bluster over something that’s not very significant.

  19. - JS Mill - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:23 am:

    I have lived in Illinois for all but 7 months of my 50 plus years of life. It is as geographically diverse as it is economically and culturally diverse. I love that about Illinois.

    Do we have issues? You bet. And we need to work on them. Go read the local news in other states. Locals are always complaining, especially about taxes and the cost of living. Even in Texas.

    But I would rather suck at that stuff, than suck at protecting the rights of citizens. And Illinois does that very well.

  20. - vern - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:24 am:

    Very interesting column. There’s a situation happening in another state right now that raises a fascinating counterfactual. Stacey Abrams, running for governor in Georgia, called Georgia “the worst state to live in.” Their newspaper reported the episode as Republicans pouncing on her gaffe:

    What would happen if our big media outlets decided that insulting Illinois is a “gaffe” for Illinois politicians? Has anyone ever reported a Republican calling Chicago a warzone in the frame of Democrats pouncing on the gaffe?

  21. - Jocko - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:33 am:

    ==Come to Illinois. We have water.==

    Insert .gif of Chevy Chase drinking from his canteen in three amigos.

  22. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:34 am:

    “reaching 13 million Illinoisans for first time is bluster over something that’s not very significant”

    Er, what?

  23. - cermak_rd - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:36 am:

    When I went to Loyola back in 1985 it was kids from the city, kids from the suburbs, kids from overseas, kids from other states and an occasional kid from the rest of the state of IL. Loyola back then did a poor job of recruiting from non-Chicagoland parts of the state. At the time Loyola did a really good job of mixing people up for freshman housing assignments.

    I think one reason why many forces in the state beat the IL is losing population drum is that some parts of IL are losing. Look at the small towns in Central IL an awful lot of them have lost population. Chicagoland is so big that it can easily make up for those losses with its own imports, but no one makes up the 3000 missing people in Mattoon, for instance. In that case, it was probably mostly caused by closed factories as a result of national trends, but still. That has to hurt.

  24. - Anyone Remember - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 10:54 am:

    ===Here in Springpatch, listening to the Sam Madonia show in the morning will lead you to believe we are living through the dark ages, the black death plague, great depression, WW II, dust bowl and end of civilization.===

    Two questions. One, doesn’t Madonia work for SoS? Two, ever heard Bishop and his unmerry band of callers?

  25. - Give Us Barabbas - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:27 am:

    News flash; people who are not in power find reasons to complain and foment dissatisfaction, which they leverage to try and gain control

  26. - Give Us Barabbas - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:29 am:

    I hear the Tribune has fewer people this year. Obviously we need to replace their editorial board to stop this downward slide.

  27. - Chicago 20 - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:31 am:

    The Census error cost Illinois representation in Washington.
    When are they going to correct that error?

  28. - Cool Papa Bell - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:46 am:

    Friends with someone who is being moved to Florida. He’s unhappy about it - but is pleased to be taking two blue votes with him to that state.

  29. - Club J - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:46 am:

    Great article and such a true statement. The words trashing Illinois has become a perverse pleasure. I was curious on how this was covered by WMAY’s morning show. Just happened Greg Bishop had Ted Dabrowski on this morning to talk about this subject. I’ve never heard two grown men so happy to say this Census report was nothing but junk in my life. They were like two teenage girls getting their nails done for the first time. Dabrowski said he called the Census bureau and got the truth. Bishop said it was nothing but a small survey and now it’s being blown out of proportion by the Governor.

    These two fellows took pride in dragging Illinois through the mud over this report.

  30. - even if - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:51 am:

    I think the big point missing here is even though Illinois did in fact grow, the rate was still paltry compared to the rest of the US. according to the Census website, the average was +7.4, we are still well under that and still fall at near the bottom of all 50 states.

  31. - Baloneymous - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:54 am:

    Flying Elvis,

    Do you have a link to that specific NOAA prediction? I’m just curious. Thanks.

  32. - Dirty Red - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 11:58 am:


    - Wirepoints (go figure)

  33. - Flying Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 12:04 pm:


    I was referencing an article in the 2021 Old Farmers Almanac that cited NOAA forecasts.

    Sorry don’t have a link.

  34. - Arsenal - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 12:11 pm:

    ==I think the big point missing here is even though Illinois did in fact grow, the rate was still paltry compared to the rest of the US. ==

    No, the big point here is that they lied to you.F For a solid decade, they told you that IL was losing population and that’s why you needed to take a paycut. Turns out, we were actually growing. Who cares if other states were growing faster, it’s not like we’re gonna miss the playoffs.

    You were lied to. I was, too. Let’s stop making excuses for the liars now.

  35. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 12:47 pm:

    It’s also worth mentioning that the defunding of higher ed, which began around 2000, resulted in up annual net losses of up to 20,000 college freshmen by 2016, the last year for which data was reported. The trend reversed in 2020; thanks to COVID and better funding for students.

    source: Outmigration Context: Residence and Migration Patterns (2018,

  36. - Fivegreenleaves - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 12:54 pm:

    I’ve lived in Illinois my entire life, and aside from Florida, solely due to weather, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. If those at the IPI hate Illinois that much, there’s no border checkpoints leading out. Pack up a U-Haul and hit the road.

  37. - Former Downstater - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 1:04 pm:

    As others have said, there are parts of the state losing population. But that is offset by the gains made in the Chicago area.

    In my experience, most people leaving are of the conservatives variety and those moving in are of the liberal variety (I’d love to know if there are actual numbers on this).

    This suggests, despite what we are always told, a conservative bias in the media. In Illinois at least.

  38. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 1:22 pm:

    There are 4.25 million black and Latin X on Illinois?

    1.8 million black vs 2.2 million Hispanic actually

    Of that 2.2 million 68% would consider themselves Hispanic

    21 % Latino or Latina

    2% actually consider themselves LatinX

    100% usage in the faculty lounge however

  39. - Nick - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 1:51 pm:

    You just know that had the census revised the numbers down significantly Crain’s and the Tribune and others wouldn’t shut up about it.

  40. - Ares - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 1:59 pm:

    If any population is being lost, is it being caused by the decline of rural areas (a problem not unique to IL)? Bring broadband and good-paying jobs to the rural parts of Illinois, and people will follow.

  41. - Rich Miller - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 2:08 pm:

    ===Crain’s and the Tribune and others wouldn’t shut up about it===

    Yep. And there would be no five-minute egg timer.

  42. - cermak_rd - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 2:12 pm:

    I thought there were some projects in the works for the broadband. Jobs will be harder. Many of those rural towns already have an older, less well educated population (outmigration from rural areas has been young and going on for a while). Jobs today tend to require more training/education thus making many jobs bad fits for a rural population. Trying to get people to move to rural areas is a hard sell. Look at all the trouble Cat had when it used to try to get engineers to move to Peoria. And Peoria is not even what I would call rural.

  43. - H-W - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 2:12 pm:

    @ Lucky - Using Census data v. Wikidata, Black folks equal 14.6% and Latinos equal 17.5% of the population. So 32.1% (combined) of 13+ M equals about 4.2 M Black and Latino residents (combined).

    But as to your more direct point about the “faculty lounge,” that is a bit misplaced. Not completely, but in general. Higher Education is a lot larger than just “the faculty.” We do not “indoctrinate” students, which is a message implicitly behind using the lounge metaphor. In reality, and in this context explicitly, higher education includes a lot of administrative units and student organizations which are also parties to the creation of knowledge. But again, in general, your notion is mostly correct that the epicenter of the current LatinX banner seems to be higher education.

    As you also note correctly, most people who are assigned to the social constructed category Latino (circa 1980) are not currently using the term LatinX, and express preferences for using the panethnic terms Latino/Latina, or Hispanic (circa 1960).

    But more important, when asked directly, most prefer identifiers that signify their actual ethnic and cultural heritages: Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cubano, Honduran, Columbian, etc. When asked directly (which I do in some of my courses), most students say they not not like being lumped into a panethnic category that combines people who are not anything alike, and whose histories are different. This suggests to me at least that the “new banner” (LatinX) is no more likely to be widely accepted than the “old banners” (Hispanic, Latino).

  44. - levivotedforjudy - Monday, May 23, 22 @ 3:12 pm:

    I wonder if this means the Chicago aldermanic Hispanic Caucus had a lot more clout than they knew before agreeing on the map deal?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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