How this state stacks up nationally by many measures
For the third year in a row, Illinois leads the nation in a dubious category: It has lost more residents than any other state.
Why does this matter? Because as people exit, so do this state’s economic muscle and national political clout. Illinois risks losing another one or two seats in the U.S. House after the 2020 census. Sun Belt states including Texas, Florida and California feast on Illinois’ misery: 114,144 Illinoisans left for other states from July 2015 to July 2016. They fled, and keep fleeing, for job opportunities, affordable housing or balmier weather. On two of the three reasons, Illinois can improve its standing.
Try this: Travel to another state for vacation. Mention that you’re from Illinois. What’s the response? Envy of an economic juggernaut brimming with opportunity, as once was the case? Nope. Snickering. A notoriously gridlocked government – Democrats who run the General Assembly versus a Republican governor – foments a two-year political budget stalemate that shortchanges social service agencies, universities, school districts, hospitals, nursing homes, families with disabled children, citizens who rely on elder care, parks, museums, recreational facilities …
Business, civic and political leaders still hold the power to attract or repel people from Illinois. And so do voters. In 2018, Illinois elects a governor and a new legislature to grapple with the exodus from the state. Or to do nothing different.
On every block, in every home and school and business, Illinoisans decide: Stay or go? The competition is fierce and not just from sunny states. It comes from job-creating Indiana and welcoming Wisconsin. And from colleges that whisper about Illinois’ budget woes and persuade students to never set foot here, or to leave here and never come back.
As people decide to leave for good or to stay and settle here, they take the measure of Illinois. Today, we’ll do the same.
Here you’ll find metrics that we think are vital (or in a few cases entertaining) to understand the state of this state in 2017.
People don’t decide whether to live in Illinois because of, say, its median income or any other statistical measure. They gauge opportunities and drawbacks. Are public debts driving up taxes? Do schools excel at what my child needs? Are superb hospitals and doctors nearby? What about the shopping and theaters and parks? Can I afford a home? Is crime rampant? Those are some of the data points that drive decisions. By many of these measures, Illinois is a troubled state that, after decades of decline, has to change trajectory if it’s to hold its people.
Granted, rankings can be idiosyncratic, relying on sketchy or misleading data. A 1st to 50th ranking is most compelling if your state happens to be in the top five or the bottom five. Illinois usually ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack, which is not fodder for a marketing campaign to attract new business: Illinois – The C Student of States!
Illinois’ local and state tax burden as a percent of state income is 11 percent, a punishing fifth highest in the nation, as of fiscal 2012, when the state income tax was higher. That is the calculation released in 2016 from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Think of this as the share of personal income that goes toward paying state and local taxes. New York tops the tax burden list. Worse: The property tax bite for owner-occupied housing puts Illinois third highest among the states, behind only New Jersey and New Hampshire.
On the broadest measure of infrastructure that includes the reliability of the power grid, the state rated an encouraging 10th, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Illinois ranks 14th for internet access, according to U.S. News & World Report’s latest ranking of states. Schools here don’t fare so well. The state is improving but still only 38th, well behind No. 1 Hawaii, in K-12 broadband connectivity, according to a 2016 report from Education Superhighway, an advocacy group devoted to boosting the nation’s public school internet infrastructure.
You’ve heard a lot about the inequity in state funding of different school districts and halting efforts by the Illinois legislature to change the state’s funding formula to help poorer districts. In 2015-16, Illinois school districts spent $31.2 billion on about 2 million students. That’s slightly more money on fewer students than the year before. Illinois ranks fourth in total education spending (2014 figures); 15th in per pupil spending; and last in the percentage of funding that comes from the state, according to a 2016 U.S. Census report. High spending doesn’t guarantee results, of course. Statewide academic test results are mixed. Graduation rates are higher than the national average but still lag top performers like Iowa. And Illinois still is a leader when it comes to the percentage of 3-year-olds in state-funded preschool.
The 50,000-foot view of Illinois
Illinois ranks as the 19th best state to live in, according to 247wallst.com in 2016. Among the most compelling reasons: The state’s declining poverty rate – 13.6 percent, 23rd lowest. That translates into good news: Illinois had 101,277 fewer people living in poverty in 2015 than the year before. And, the state’s annual median income of $59,588 is about $3,800 more than the typical American household. Other positives: The state’s percentage of adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree (32.9 percent, slightly higher than the national rate); and life expectancy at birth, 78.7 years, 24th highest). That’s the last word on Illinois? Hardly. The Boston Consulting Group uses a different set of measurements and produces what it calls “The Path Forward for Illinois.” These analysts rank Illinois 34th in overall well-being in their 2017 report. The group takes a state’s temperature on a wide range of metrics, including poverty, cost of living, health care, corruption, crime, air and water quality, population growth, employment, fiscal management, life expectancy and education. Massachusetts rates first. With its gridlocked government and bulging pension debt, Illinois staggers to make headway on a path forward. “We see this as a call to arms for the government, business leaders, and residents of Illinois,” the authors of “The Path Forward for Illinois” write. “We want more for Illinois, and we are committed to changing its present trajectory.” At the Tribune Editorial Board, so do we and so are we.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, Illinois’ violent crime rate – an estimated 383.8 serious crimes per 100,000 population in 2015 – puts the state in the middle of the pack at 21st.
WalletHub ranked Illinois and the rest of America across 28 “happiness” metrics – from emotional health to income levels to sports participation rates. Illinois should (shouldn’t?) be happy that the state settled exactly in the middle of the pack at 25th.
Illinois ranks in the middle – 26th in the nation – for its citizens’ health, according to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings 2016 annual report. That’s a modest improvement from the year before. Illinois and other states were ranked on dozens of health measures. But we think the health of Illinois residents isn’t measured only in whether we eat too much (we do, the report says), weigh too much (ditto), drink too much (yep) or smoke too much (not as much as many other states) but also in the quality of health care available.
Illinoisans rank a sedentary 26th with about 2 hours and 41 minutes spent watching TV each day. Under-exerted West Virginians watch a nation-leading 3 hours and 33 minutes per day. (A telling metric: Illinois ranks 11th in the number of Laz-E-Boy retailers per capita, according to the estately.com blog.) Illinois is middling in rankings of companion categories, including fast-food restaurants per capita, exercising least frequently, Google searches for video game rentals – and expressing interest in soap operas on Facebook.
Illinois earns only average marks for the overall performance of its health care systems, including hospitals and nursing homes, from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That ranking includes dozens of metrics about how well hospitals, doctors and clinics deliver timely, quality care to patients. Avoidable admissions for hypertension and uncontrolled diabetes continue to be weak spots, for instance. The Commonwealth Fund rated Illinois 27th among the states, awarding higher marks in prevention and treatment but lower ratings in avoidable hospital use – hospital readmissions within 30 days, for instance – and costs. Bottom line: Commonwealth says that if Illinois performed as well as the highest-rated states, each year there would be 70,763 fewer emergency department visits for non-emergencies among Medicare patients and 10,210 fewer hospital readmissions for Medicare patients, and 2,454 fewer children would be hospitalized for asthma exacerbations.
The Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report released in September shows that the quality of Illinois’ road system has bounced around, from 34th in 2009 to 29th in 2013, the last year measured. This state ranks high for the conditions of rural and urban interstates. But Illinois spends almost twice the national average to maintain and build a mile of state-controlled road (including bridges).
Business tax climate
The Anderson Economic Group rates Illinois 30th among states for business tax burden in 2015. (Oklahoma and Oregon are the most attractive.) If you wonder why Illinois has sluggish jobs growth, here’s a primary reason.
Matters of the heart
People may come for a job, but they stay because they feel rooted in a community, connected to a greater cause. Utah leads the nation in volunteerism, and Illinois ranks a stingier 31st, according to the federal Corporation for National & Community Service. But that just means there’s opportunity for citizens to do more. Mentoring programs abound. Many children need help. We’ve often written about the most successful programs, including By The Hand Club For Kids, an impressive after-school academic program and haven for inner-city children. Illinois could rank first in the nation in this category, if more people devoted time to helping struggling students or neighbors.
Illinois is the 33rd most religious state in the country, according to the Pew Research Center. Some 51 percent of Illinois adults are described as “highly religious” – meaning they say religion is very important in their lives, they pray daily and regularly attend worship services. The most religious state? Alabama, where 77 percent of adults are described as “highly religious.” The least? Massachusetts, 33 percent.
Illinoisans ranked 36th in 2012, the latest figures published by philanthropy.com. The state’s typical household donated 2.8 percent of its discretionary income but didn’t come close to topping Utah, where households gave 6.61 percent of discretionary income. That’s more than a full percentage point ahead of second place Mississippi.
No surprise here, Illinois ranks a pokey 45th for commute time, according to U.S. News & World Report. (New York was dead last.)
Illinois tails most of the pack here. According to the 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Arkansas leads the nation in dog households and Vermont with cats, dogtime.com reports. Illinois’ percentage of pet-owning households, 51.8 percent, ranks 46th. That measure is 70.8 percent in cat-crazy Vermont and 50.4 percent in pet-unfriendliest Massachusetts.
No state can thrive if jobs – opportunities – flee across the borders to neighboring states or foreign countries.
Bad news here: Illinois still is down 19,600 jobs from its all-time peak of September 2000, according to March 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet surrounding states have grown jobs in the same time frame: Indiana added 116,100; Iowa, 99,900; Missouri, 121,100; Wisconsin, 113,600. That reflects better business climates – lower taxes, less regulation, more flexible work rules and lower workers’ compensation costs – in those states.
A similar story on unemployment: Despite a drop of 0.4 percentage point over the last year, unemployment in this state remains the highest in the region, according to a report by Moody’s Analytics for Illinois state government. “Labor market woes are more severe than they appear at first glance,” the report says. “An uncomfortably high share of state residents are unemployed, underemployed or discouraged workers.”Although business costs are lower than the national averages and have trended down for the past few decades, the state’s longer-term outlook “is tarnished primarily by its budget woes and weak population trends,” the Moody’s report says. That’s why the rating agency predicts “the state will grow a step behind the Midwest average and a few steps behind the nation over the extended forecast horizon.”Unfortunately, Illinois still leads the nation in a dubious metric: The extreme number of local governments its taxpayers support, 6,963 according to 2012 figures, the latest available. (Texas is a distant second at 5,147.) Illinois desperately needs to shed this title.
Chief Executive Magazine ranks Illinois a dismal 48th for business in 2016 – a rank it has held since 2011. Only taxaholic New York and California rank worse. One obvious reason for this cellar-dwelling ranking: Springfield. U.S. News & World Report ranks Illinois 47th in effectiveness of state government, worse than every other state except New Jersey, Nevada and Kansas. We’d say that’s generous.
Public pension shortfall
The state’s sprawling pension liability crisis and the legislature’s failure to fix it yields a dismal 48th ranking, third worst among the states. A 2017 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says Illinois, with its pension system funded at only 40.2 percent in 2015, is ahead of only New Jersey (37.5) and Kentucky (37.8). Overall, the unfunded debt related to pensions and retiree health costs for local and state government workers totals $267 billion, the Illinois Policy Institute calculates – about $56,000 per household. And it is climbing fast. One reason people leave Illinois is to escape taxes that each household can expect to pay to pare the debt, the conservative think tank says. That’s also a powerful reason not to bring your business here.
State higher education funding
The state’s budget gridlock has deprived public colleges of funding, prompting layoffs and other belt-tightening. But follow the roller coaster here. First the rise: Illinois boosted educational appropriations per student by 32.5 percent from fiscal 2010 to 2014, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Much of that funding, however, didn’t go to college operations but to shore up previous underfunding of the state’s higher ed pension system. Now the stomach-churning plunge: Higher ed funding – state spending per student – is down an estimated 37.1 percent from 2015 to 2016, the biggest drop of any state, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Is higher ed a bargain in Illinois? Nope. Average public university in-state tuition and fees are fifth highest in the country in 2016-17, behind only New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to a new report from Lumina Foundation’s Strategy Labs.
Illustrations by Phil Geib/Chicago Tribune
Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune