Chicago was an amazing, exciting city when my family relocated to the area in the mid-1980s. “Da Bears” were Super Bowl champions. The Bulls had drafted a player out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan, who showed some real promise. The economy was relatively strong. Ferris Bueller showed the nation how much fun the city could be.
But there was a cancer growing. Underfunded pensions, high taxes, crime, poorly performing schools—and yes, the weather—caused many people to consider leaving both Chicago and the state of Illinois. And now they have . . . in droves.
“Illinois’ population declined by 113,776 from July 1, 2020, through July 1, 2021. No other Midwestern or neighboring state saw a population decline of more than 17,000,” reports the Illinois Policy Center. Last year marked the eighth consecutive year that Illinois saw a decline in its population.
Sadly, it is the state’s highest-income earners and most-educated residents who are leaving. This drains the tax base and puts a heavier burden on less-educated, poorer residents who simply may not be able to afford to move.
In addition, major corporations are now heading for greener pastures. Boeing, Caterpillar, Citadel, and Tyson Foods have announced plans to leave the state, which means Illinois will lose four of the 35 Fortune 500 companies once based there. It’s little wonder why. As real estate analyst Don Catalano notes, “Illinois’s regulatory environment, taxes, high crime, and dwindling talent base have earned the state a spot on the list of worst states for business for 11 consecutive years.”
In April, Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin explained his dismay in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “If people aren’t safe here [in Chicago], they are not going to live here . . . I’ve had multiple colleagues mugged at gunpoint. I’ve had a colleague stabbed on the way to work. Countless issues of burglary. I mean, that’s a really difficult backdrop with which to draw talent to your city . . . ”
I decided in January to leave Chicago. My reasons mirrored those of most people leaving the city: crime, taxes, traffic, and the lack of support for police from politicians.
Things changed for me on July 4, when a gunman climbed onto a roof in the affluent Chicago suburb of Highland Park and opened fire, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others. There was wall-to-wall coverage of the shooting for days by both local and national media.
This was truly a sad event that devastated an entire community. But this is not what made me change my mind. What did was the fact that on the same weekend, there were 10 other people killed and 62 people wounded by gunfire in Chicago . . . and no one seemed to care.
I decided to do some research, and the findings were staggering. Through the end of August, 2,352 people had been shot in Chicago, 448 fatally. In 2021, there were 797 homicides in Chicago and 3,561 shootings, according to the Chicago Police Department. Chicago had a homicide rate of 28.6 for every 100,000 people, significantly above the national homicide rate of 6.5 murders per 100,000. And again, no one seems to care.
And it isn’t just crime.
Only 26 percent of Chicago Public Schools 11th-graders can read and do math at grade level, yet the school district “proudly announced that 84 percent of students graduated in 2021—a new record high.”
Poverty is also a problem. “The most recent poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 23.2 of Chicago children—and 20.6 of (all) Chicago minorities—live in poverty . . . Overall, 16.4% of the Chicago population lives in poverty, compared to 12.3% of the U.S. as a whole.”
The national nonprofit Feeding America estimated “785,890 people in Cook County, Illinois (where Chicago is located) were food insecure in 2020 . . . a 51 percent increase since 2018.” That means that Cook County has the third-largest population of food-insecure people in the United States.
So, I’ve decided to stay and try to make a difference, and I encourage my fellow conservatives to do the same. No city can survive if its richest, most highly educated population flees. A city cannot survive if the answer to its problems is to ignore them and to let those who cannot leave fend for themselves.
I encourage my fellow conservatives to get involved: run for a school board seat, volunteer for political candidates who want to fix our city, volunteer with organizations that work to address the city’s problems, become a tutor for an “at risk” child. Do something.
We can’t all run to Florida. Besides, if enough of us stay and fight for change, Chicago just may elect its first Republican mayor since 1927.