ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK
Illinois rural communities are losing tens of thousands of residents to outmigration as small towns grapple with employment issues.
Illinois experienced a net loss of approximately 40,000 residents between 2010 and 2016 according to the U.S Census Bureau. While the Chicago metropolitan area gained more than 43,000 residents, downstate metropolitan areas and rural counties lost more than 87,000 people.
Rural counties, which accounted for more than 50,000 of those lost, are facing tough times, Zach Kennedy, extension specialist in community and economic development with the University of Illinois Extension, said.
“It’s hard to maintain a community when you’re depopulating,” Kennedy said. “If this sort of depopulation trend continues, it’s definitely going to affect some communities in perhaps a very severe manner.”
While natural causes like changes in birth and death rates can affect population numbers, the data show most of the loss is coming from departing residents.
“I have heard of folks moving [to] states that are neighboring to Illinois because they have a better business climate and hence they have more job opportunity as a result,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said a lack of jobs is plaguing rural communities, which can become dependent on a larger employer like a manufacturing plant. The problem comes when that employer leaves, because it also leaves behind a lot of unemployment.
Kennedy also noted that an increasing number of young people from rural areas are leaving for college and don’t come back because their hometown doesn’t offer jobs to support higher education levels.
“If there’s no job opportunity, it’s hard to maintain your population levels, let alone attract new people to come to a certain place,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said rural communities can help by supporting entrepreneurs, but he also argued that legislatures have the responsibility of making Illinois attractive to employers and potential residents.
“It’s undeniable that the cost of doing business in our state is higher than that of some of our neighboring states,” Kennedy said. “So when businesses are making a location decision on either where to move or where to start up, it makes it more difficult for us to compete when we have higher tax rates and workers’ compensation rates and higher property and income taxes than some of our neighboring states.”