For the first time this decade, Champaign County has fewer people than it did the year before. But the slight drop is nothing compared to the population plummets elsewhere in Illinois.
Here’s what else we learned from U.S. Census Bureau estimates, released on April 18:
—Not to dump on Danville, but the city’s run of bad population news continues: Of the 967 “metropolitan areas” in the United States, only three experienced bigger drops between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, than the one in the Vermilion County seat.
The Danville area lost 970 residents during that period, a decline of 1.2 percent. They only had it worse in Charleston, W.Va. (down 1.6 percent), Pine Bluff, Ark. (1.5), and Farmington, N.M. (1.5).
—Of Illinois’ 102 counties, 82 suffered population drops. Among them: Champaign (down 0.1 percent — matching the decline for the C-U metro area); Ford (0.4); Piatt (0.4); Douglas (0.8); and Vermilion (1.2).
Piatt County is estimated to have lost 60 residents, and now has an overall population of 16,396.
— With the real Census a year away, Champaign remains Illinois’ 10th largest county. But losing 121 residents knocked it back below 210,000 (to 209,983) — still comfortably ahead of No. 11 Sangamon (195,348).
—Of the 45,116 Illinoisans no longer with us — be it due to departure or death — 24,009 left Cook County. Chicago’s home base remains the country’s second-most populous county — only L.A. County (10,105,518) has more people than Cook’s 5,180,493 — but Texas’ Harris County (4,698,619) is closing fast.
— Count on Texas being the big national story today. Four of the 10 fastest-growing counties call the Lone Star State home; three others are in Florida.
Census numbers released April 18 show that for the first time in seven years, every major metropolitan area in the state saw population decline between July 2017 and July 2018.
The numbers give a county and metro-area look at population changes, and provide more detail on the statewide numbers the Census Bureau released for the same time period last December, which showed Illinois lost about 45,000 that year.
Piatt County is estimated to have lost 60 residents – a .4 percent drop – and now has an overall population of 16,396.
To Bryce Hill, research analyst at the conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute, the detailed numbers released Thursday are no shock.
“This is something that was expected,” Hill said. “But it is concerning that all of the state’s metro areas are losing population.”
According to Hill’s analysis, most of the population loss is due to outmigration – more people leaving the state than arriving.
The Chicago metro area, which extends beyond Cook County into the collar counties and parts of southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Indiana, had the greatest raw number decline of more than 22,000 people.
In Cook County alone, more than 24,000 people left.
Hill said the reason Cook County had a greater loss than the surrounding metro area is because of a continuing, longtime trend of people moving from the city to the nearby suburbs.
While the population drop of 970 people in the Danville metro area was smaller by comparison, it was the fourth worst decline of any metro area in the country at 1.25 percent.
In all, only 16 of Illinois’ 102 counties saw population increases. A few of them, like Grundy (359), Monroe (176), and Jasper (71), are downstate, which Hill attributed to the natural result of births still outpacing deaths in those areas, rather than people moving there.
In most other places, Hill said, the gap between births and deaths is closing, and migration into Illinois is not enough to make up for the people leaving.
“As the population ages,” Hill said, “outmigration is going to become a bigger and bigger issue.”
While the Policy Institute cited the recent numbers as signs of Illinois’ poor labor market, high tax burden and reckless spending, others say the reasons for population shifts are more complicated.
“The problem of fixing outmigration is different depending on where you are,” said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “If we mechanize farming and lose manufacturing downstate, that’s a different issue than dealing with gentrification in northeastern Illinois, for example.”
While admitting the trend is concerning, Redfield added that no single solution will fix the population problem.
“To say that if we adopted Florida’s tax structure, both downstate and metro areas would suddenly turn around – it’s much more complicated than that,” he said.
Population changes in the state will also affect the outcome of the 2020 census count, on which rides billions of dollars in federal funding and the number of congressional seats for Illinois.
Redfield said, based on current census estimations, at least one congressional seat will be lost, and it will likely come out of southern Illinois.