Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Illinois To Lose 1 Congressional Seat After Census Shows State Lost Population For First Time

Illinois is one of seven states to lose a congressional seat due to 2020 U.S. Census results. Census officials briefed the media during a webinar Monday.
Screengrab via YouTube
Illinois is one of seven states to lose a congressional seat due to 2020 U.S. Census results. Census officials briefed the media during a webinar Monday.
Illinois is one of seven states to lose a congressional seat due to 2020 U.S. Census results. Census officials briefed the media during a webinar Monday.
Credit Screengrab via YouTube
Illinois is one of seven states to lose a congressional seat due to 2020 U.S. Census results. Census officials briefed the media during a webinar Monday.

For the first time in more than 200 years, Illinois’ population declined over the last decade, according to new 2020 U.S. Census results released Monday, and the state will lose one congressional seat after the 2022 election.

Illinois is one of only three states that lost population in the last decade, with its 0.14% net out-migration only surpassed by Mississippi and West Virginia. The state’s official population count stands at 12,812,508 — a net loss of more than 18,000 people since 2010. But that new figure is a quarter million more people than what the Census Bureau estimated Illinois' population had declined to in December.

Ahead of the Census Bureau’s official announcement on Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker said he’s worried about the state’s population loss, but was quick to point to the historic trend that predated his term in office.“We’ve got to turn that around,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event Monday. “That’s something that, unfortunately, before I became governor, was really, you know, a bit set in at least clay, if not stone. And now we’re working very hard to make sure we’re going in the right direction.”

Republicans, however, pointed to the new data as evidence of failure by Democrats, who have controlled much of Illinois government for decades. GOP House members blasted Illinois' high property taxes and what they characterized as an unfriendly business climate full of regulatory trap doors.

“We should be a state that is growing leaps and bounds,” State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said Monday, recounting the agricultural and transportation resources Illinois often touts. “There’s only one reason why we’re not, and that’s the poor decisions that are coming from Springfield. We have to make a change desperately and urgently.”

Amid a contentious redistricting season in Illinois, the state’s GOP faces potential losses in the General Assembly as Democrats who control the map-making process draw new lines likely favorable to their continued dominance in state politics, but also the lost congressional seat. Democrats are widely expected to wipe a Republican currently serving in the U.S. House off the map.

Population loss a first for Illinois

It’s rare for states to lose net population. The 2010 Census revealed only one state — Michigan — lost population over the previous decade, and the 2000 Census found no state whose population shrunk. In the 1980s, four states lost population.

The 2020 Census is the first time Illinois has ever seen a decline in population, since the Illinois territory first participated in a Census in 1810.

“If our state is not growing, it is dying,” Spain said.

During a virtual presentation of the new Census data on Monday, Census officials said the Midwest grew the most slowly of the U.S.’ four main regions. But most of the 12 states the Census Bureau considers part of the Midwest outpaced the region’s aggregate 3.1% growth in the last decade, with Illinois significantly bringing down the average.

Pritzker claimed much of Illinois’ net out-migration in the last 10 years was due to college students choosing to go to out-of-state universities, where tuition was more affordable. This so-called “brain drain” has worried Illinois policymakers for years, as students who go to school outside of Illinois often don’t return home, choosing to settle in the state they went to college in, or venturing further.

But the governor pointed to recent enrollment data showing four-year colleges in Illinois held “relatively stable” — instead of losing students, and touted scholarship and aid programs the state has expanded in recent years, which he said were helping stem the flow out of state.

“That hasn’t happened — for years before I became governor, the numbers were going down,” Pritzker said. “So just getting to stable is pretty good. I’d like to see it going up. That’s what we’d like to do.”

More detailed 2020 Census information — including demographics that might confirm Pritzker’s claims of college students contributing the most to population loss — won’t be released until later this year.

But Senate GOP Leader Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) pointed to out-migration by working-age and retiring Illinoisans.

“The 2020 Census numbers show that Americans continue to vote with their feet,” McConchie said in a statement. “People are leaving states where they can’t find economic opportunity and heading to states where they can. If we want to keep our talent and our tax base, our top priority should be passing pro-growth policies that will make Illinois more attractive to students, employers and families.”

Tenth congressional seat lost

When the new Congress is seated in early 2023, Illinois will have 17 U.S. House seats — down from the current 18. Losing a congressional seat as a result of the 2020 Census is a continuation of a decades-long trend; Since the 1940 Census, Illinois has lost 10 seats in the U.S. House. The only decade in modern history that Illinois didn’t lose a seat was after the 1970 Census, following the prime years of the post-World War II baby boom.

Illinois was one of six states to lose its claim over the 435 seats in the U.S. House. Other states whose populations have grown slowly or declined — including California, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — lost one seat. Illinois is still the sixth-most populous state in the nation, a distinction earned by falling behind Pennsylvania at the end of 2018. Texas, the second-most populous state, gained two seats in the U.S. House, and the third-most populous state, Florida, picked up one.

State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield), who worked in Congress for years before getting appointed to the General Assembly in 2015, called Illinois’ continued loss of congressional seats “a great blemish” on the state’s power in federal government.

“What that means [is] in Washington, D.C. we have less influence,” Butler said. “Illinois has a strong history of tremendous influence on Capitol Hill. But we see that continue to wane because of the policies that emanate out of Springfield.”

Losing one congressional seat was expected, but as former President Donald Trump’s administration attempted put put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census in early 2018, some warned Illinois could be in danger of losing two seats. The citizenship question was ultimately blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Census officials on Monday said Illinois wasn’t close to losing a second seat; no state lost more than one seat in the reapportionment. 

Democrats currently control 13 of Illinois’ 18 U.S. House seats, with Republicans occupying five. Republicans know one of their delegation will be drawn out of his or her own congressional district. The only question now is who. 

Prognosticators in Washington, D.C. have long speculated that U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) would be at the top of Democrats’ list for elimination. But others have predicted moderate U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon), who has become a vocal critic of his party’s far-right elements, or freshman U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Oakland), whose conservative views and statements — especially saying “Hitler was right” about winning the hearts and minds of young people the day before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — have garnered outrage from both Democrats and moderates like Kinzinger, may be on the chopping block.

Redistricting fights continue

Republicans are currently locked in a losing battle with Democratic lawmakers — who hold veto-proof “supermajorities” in the Illinois House and Senate — over the state’s legislative and congressional redistricting process playing out this spring.

Illinois’ constitution mandates district maps for Congress and the General Assembly be redrawn every decade, the year after the U.S. Census. Lawmakers are responsible for the legislative mapmaking process, but if they fail to approve new maps or the governor fails to sign them by June 30, the process is handed over to an eight-member commission, split evenly by party. If that commission doesn’t reach agreement by Aug. 10, a ninth partisan tie-breaking member is chosen by Sept. 5 for a final deadline a month later.

The eight-member panel only ever reached agreement in 1971 — the year after Illinois’ current constitution was ratified. A tiebreaker was chosen in 1981, 1991 and 2001, with Democrats winning the 50/50 partisan advantage twice, and Republicans once in 1991, when their map propelled the GOP to control of the Illinois Senate for a decade.

But in 2011, Democrats controlled both the legislature and governor’s office, and unified to approve a map before June 30 to not give Republicans any chance of controlling the redistricting process. That same scenario is playing out in 2021, despite the GOP and good government groups’ objections to the process, and repeatedly pointing out that Democrats have even very recently supported taking the mapmaking process out of lawmakers’ hands and giving it to an independent commission.

While running for governor in 2018, Pritzker pledged to veto maps that were drawn by lawmakers, political party leaders or their staffs or allies. But since then, the governor has walked that back, saying he is looking for legislative maps that are “fair” in the sense that they represent the diversity of Illinois.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau says it won’t be able to give states detailed Census data until at least August — information it usually sends to states in April. But Democrats say they’re going ahead with the mapmaking process without the 2020 Census data, casting doubts on the data’s efficacy a year after the state spent more than $30 million on Census outreach efforts.

Democrats in charge of the House and Senate redistricting committees have not officially said they plan to use data from the American Community Survey — a dataset from the Census Bureau that averages several years of population data, and touches less communities in the information-gathering process than the Census.

Republicans like State Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville) say using that data instead of waiting for official Census results would mean an undercut for rural communities like those in her 95th House District.

“If we’re seeing the population shifts in Illinois away from rural parts of Illinois, I think it wouldn’t serve our small areas well if we used data that we know would skew the wrong direction,” Bourne said. “The ACS data is not the way to go.”

The Democrats in charge of the Senate’s redistricting committee, State Sens. Omar Aquino (D-Chicago) and Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) did not directly address the state’s population loss in a statement Monday, saying only they “remain committed” to getting Illinois communities federal resources and support. They also reiterated their pledge to finalize maps by June 30.

“As others seek to delay and distract, we are focused on gathering input from communities of interest across Illinois to create a fair map that reflects the diversity of our great state,” they said.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.