After Population Loss Reported, Revised Census Numbers Show Illinois Actually Gained 250K Residents

Once a decade, a national census is supposed to get a handle on how many people live in the United States.

The results impact everything from federal funding to how many representatives each state gets in Congress.

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Locally, the story had been that people were leaving Illinois, and that the population dropped by about 18,000. But the U.S. Census Bureau came out last week with fresh numbers in its post-enumeration survey that show the reverse: The state gained some 250,000 people between 2010 and 2020.

“We’re not looking at huge adjustments. I know the number sounds big. But remember, as a resident of the United States you’ve got over 330 million other people who are trying to take your parking spaces. It’s a crowded sort of place. It’s a hard group to enumerate,” said Cynthia Buckley a sociologist at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and a self-described census nerd who uses her demographer skills to dig into the data.

During the latest census, Buckley worked as an enumerator, one of the individuals who goes door to door, trying to get folks to complete census forms.

Buckley said 2020 was a different, and in many ways difficult, year.

There were political fights, concerns about a citizenship question being added, and a global pandemic that made people even warier than normal to answer when a stranger knocked at their door.

But she says a post-census survey that updates numbers is normal, and figures like Illinois’ added quarter million residents is a small adjustment.

“A couple hundred thousand people is tough — that’s the Dan Ryan on a good day,” Buckley said. “At the same time, what we’ve got here is we’re the biggest state in the Midwest. We’ve got over 12 million Illinoisans, and therefore adding on that error factor from the post enumeration survey really is a miniscule percentage.”

Illinois wasn’t the only state to see a change; 14 states showed swings, some up, some down.

Buckley said the revisions are not enough to have reversed Illinois’ loss of a congressional set. Going forward, Illinois will send 17 U.S. Representatives to Washington, D.C. rather than the previous 18.

She also said the updated figures likely would not have done much to shift the shape of districts within Illinois.

Districts are already at the mercy of partisan whims given that they’re drawn by state lawmakers, and the statistical changes weren’t enough to trump political interests that also determine borders.

While the change isn’t enough to up Illinois’ influence, it could lead to additional money coming the state’s way.

Top members of Gov. J.B Pritzker’s administration were in Washington last week when the census announced its updates.

Pritzker’s Chief of Staff Anne Caprara said the governor called right away.

“The very first thing out of his mouth was ‘We need to understand what federal resources or dollars we are not getting because of this undercount,’” she said. “And so we kicked off an immediate effort with our federal partners, members of our congressional delegation, to really start the process of understanding: Is there any money we haven’t received as a result of this? Are there any grant programs we weren’t eligible for?”

Caprara said she doesn’t yet have answers to those questions, and guessed that it could be a few weeks before Illinois learns where and how much more it could see in extra per capita-based funding.

She says it’s not time for a victory lap, but the data is validating.

“People do want to live here and move here, work here, go to college here. And I also think it’s a rebuke of the naysayers and the pessimists and the folks who’ve made a career, really, of downplaying the state’s changes, of downplaying Illinois, out of making it out to be this huge out-migration when in fact we gained as a state,” Caprara said.

But critics said Illinois shouldn’t be boasting, particularly considering how it’s doing versus neighboring states.

“We are the laggard and given the crime we have right now, given the highest property taxes in the country and given some of the strictest COVID mitigations, I think we’re going to find that we’re still going to have lots of pressure with our population,” said Ted Dabrowski, director of the non-partisan, conservative-learning economic policy organization Wirepoints.  

Meanwhile, states that picked up Congressional representation saw their populations soar, with Texas adding 4 million residents.

“These states are taking all the people, they’re taking all the investment, all the wealth, and a lot of them are coming from here. You look at the IRS data, you look at the census data, and people are leaving Illinois in droves. And it’s across every income group and every age group,” Dabrowski said. “If we want to thrive in Illinois we need people, we need investment. And if we’re getting the opposite we’re in big trouble.”

Buckley said any claim that residents are flocking in or out of Illinois based on a particular administration or policy is “balderdash.”

“The Midwest as a whole is not growing as fast as the Sunbelt. And so unless either the Democrats or the independents can do something about preventing the next polar vortex, I have a real strong suspicion that these claims of ‘we’re doing it right so people are moving in, we’re doing it wrong so people are moving out’ are quite overblown,” Buckley said.

Buckely said both Chicago and Illinois did well in getting folks to fill out the census form.

She says it’s too early to tell, but she has a guess as to what’s behind the growth that states like Illinois saw in the post-enumeration survey.

She predicts these are “migrant magnet” states, and the upward adjustments are because many migrants may have been initially reluctant to participate in the census.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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