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The Chicago Area's Population Is Decreasing For The First Time In Decades

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Mar 24, 2016 5:42PM

It's official: The Chicago metropolitan area is shrinking. According to U.S. Census Bureau data released this week, the Chicago are (which includes the city but also areas around it) decreased in population last year for the first time since at least 1990. The decrease marked the largest loss of any major metropolitan area in the United States in the past year.

Cook County as a whole saw a population decrease last year for the first time since 2007. The Census Bureau new data shows that in the 12 months ending last June, Illinois forfeited more people than any other state—and rather than offset the losses as it has in the past, Chicago is making the numbers significantly worse. For the last several years, Wayne County (which contains Fairfield) has shouldered the majority of Illinois' population losses. Last year, however, Cook County led the pack with a 0.2 percent population decline — a number that totals about 10,488 residents.

Illinois's terrible fiscal mismanagement, may be partially to blame. Illinois has the worst credit rating and outlook of any state. It is also the only state to date without a budget for the 2016 fiscal year. Illinois is taking out $5.1 billion more every year than it brings in, which results in beyond-poor public services and ever-embarrassing political dysfunction.

Last year, data began to suggest that Houston—the fastest-growing US city—would surpass Chicago as the third most populated national metropolis by 2025. While Chicago writhes in the tangle of its own financial and political catastrophe, Houston boasts a relatively strong economy and low taxes that lure the urban-minded conservative set. According to this most recent Census data, California, Florida, and Texas added the most residents last year.

The mass departure from Chicago may signal another disturbing trend: Ongoing gun violence and racially motivated police brutality could be driving the African-Americans away. In 2010, the African-American population in Chicago dropped by 17 percent; in 2014, it declined another 4 percent. (Data about racial breakdowns has not been released yet.)

Updated: The original version of this article did not properly distinguish between the city of Chicago and the Chicago metropolitan area. It is the Chicago metropolitan area that saw a remarkable population loss for the first time in years; the city of Chicago has been seeing a population decline for much longer.