According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Cook County's population dropped in 2015, marking the area's first decline since 2007. Data shows that Cook County lost 10,488 residents in between 2014 and 2015—the steepest drop recorded in any county in the nation. At 5.2 million residents, Cook County is in no danger of losing its status as the second most-populated county in the U.S. anytime soon, but the downward trend is disturbing nonetheless.
Why are so many people deciding to leave the Chicago area? While the city's economy seems to be strengthening, Chicago's pension crisis and the continued lack of a state budget in Illinois are taking a toll on taxpayers. The Illinois Supreme Court recently rejected Mayor Rahm Emanuel's latest plan for pension reform, leaving the city on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars that it will likely borrow—after all, Emanuel already raised Chicago property taxes in an attempt to fund pension obligations. Meanwhile, after a recent compromise in Pennsylvania, Illinois is the only state in America without an operating budget for the 2016 fiscal year. The continuing budget impasse will soon force public universities, community colleges and other public institutions to shut down—the Tribune recently revealed that Chicago State University is on the verge of laying off all 900 of its employees due to a lack of funds.
The most disturbing aspect of Chicago's population decrease is that as more people decide to leave the area, the burden on those who decide to remain in the city will only be compounded. Essentially, each person who moves away from Chicago distributes their respective tax obligation among the citizens who remain. The financial woes of Chicago (and Illinois) show no signs of abating anytime soon, which means that the next census is likely to reveal that even more residents have moved on to greener pastures—to cities that aren't beholden to enormous debts and states that fund important public institutions in lieu of a political standoff. Issues such as gun violence and unchecked gentrification don't make Chicago any more attractive, so it's difficult to fault anyone leaving the city in search of a better life. However, for those of us who remain in Chicago, the exodus will undoubtedly yield some profound consequences.