Illinois' Population Decline — What Does It Mean?

Illinois’ Population Decline — What Does It Mean?

  • Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a series on population change in Kane County, based on reports by Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies.

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From July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2014, Rockford’s population declined by 2.5 percent or 3,840 people—the biggest numerical drop of any Illinois city during that period, according to census data provided to Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies.

Illinois has nearly 1,300 incorporated villages, towns and cities. CGS monitors demographic changes in Illinois as a coordinating agency in the U.S. Census Bureau State Data Center Network.

Suburban North Chicago was second on the list of towns seeing the greatest population decline, losing 2,189 residents, followed by Decatur (-2,079), Belleville (-1,549), Moline (-824), Freeport (-764) and Danville (-759).

The good news for Kane County is that population rose during the past year as well as for the time period from 2010 to 2014, as illustrated in earlier installments of this series. That does not mean, however, that Kane County is immune to population migration or that the issue shouldn’t be the topic of at least some concern.

Why Should We Care?

The short answer to the subhead question is that population decline — especially population migration — is a signal of how a state’s economy and standard of living measure up to its neighbors. There are also brass-tacks impacts on government services as well as private-sector businesses.

“Population loss might be a greater concern for larger communities because of population-based aid they receive from state and federal sources,” says Eric Zeemering, a professor of public administration at NIU. He says towns that are losing a substantial number of residents need to make adjustments.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.19.41 AM“Municipalities with declining populations must be vigilant about scaling back services to match local needs,” Zeemering says. “If population loss is accompanied by a reduced percentage of occupied properties and the closure of businesses, communities must cope with lost revenue from property taxes and other fee-supported services, like water and sewer services.”

In March, CGS reported that census data showed Illinois had nearly 10,000 fewer residents in 2014 than in the previous year — the largest numerical decline of any state in the nation and the first statewide population dip since the mid-1980s.

“When communities lose population, it’s typically a sign of lost jobs or an aging population,” says Sherrie Taylor, a CGS researcher. “The national birth rate has been decreasing as families are starting later in life and not having as many children. This trend, coupled with the aging baby boomer generation, is creating a decrease in the population throughout Illinois. Some residents are also leaving for jobs in other states. But new immigrants sometimes make up for the loss in the more urban settings, such as Chicago.”

Population changes taking place in Illinois also include a shift from rural to urban settings.

“This reflects a national trend,” Taylor says. “The global tipping point was in 2007, when the worldwide population in urban settings first exceeded rural settings. In the United States, the trend is no different as people have been moving to urban settings for decades. Now more than 80 percent of the country’s population is in urban areas, and that percentage continues to grow. Urban areas offer convenience, jobs and an opportunity for a greater quality of life.”

SOURCE: Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies

Kane County Population Series

Illinois population map