JacksonSouth Loop

Chicago, and Illinois, continue to lose residents. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Population Loss: The Downsizing of Chicago and Illinois

By Emily Karns and Areli Quintana

Posted: Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017

Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released updated numbers that showed Chicago would hold on to its position as the third largest city in the country with a population of 2,704,958.

However, the data also alarmed many. The numbers showed that Chicago was the only major city in the country to lose residents. In the year 2016, more than 66,000 people left Cook County.

Houston, with a population of 2,303,483, gained 18,666 people in the year 2015 and 125,000 overall in 2016 which is set to overtake Chicago if this trend continues. 

And it's not just Chicago, but Illinois as well. According to Census data released in mid-December, Illinois’ population decreased by 33,703 people, dropping it to sixth place among the nation's most populous states, one slot behind Pennsylvania. It ranks as one of the country's worst declines for a state, while states bordering Illinois have seen modest increases. [The chart below compares the population over time.]

 From 2015 to 2016, Illinois went from 12.8 residents to 12.3 million. Meanwhile, Texas increased from 27.4 to 27.8 million. (Google Public Data)

The numbers may not be noticeable for those living in downtown Chicago and North Side neighborhoods.

The Loop is one of the only neighborhoods in Chicago to see a population increase. From 2014 to 2015, the Loop’s population increased from 30,642 to 33,442. Meanwhile, neighborhoods like Lakeview see relatively stable numbers in population.

Earlier this year, Census data showed that Lakeview become the most populated neighborhood in the city as Austin’s population dropped to 97,600. Meanwhile, Lakeview claimed the first spot at 98,200.

Who's Leaving? 

While the Loop and Lakeview flourish, black neighborhoods are shrinking as African- Americans leave the city. According to the Census, black population in the city has dropped more than 141,000 since the year 2005. By the year 2016, the black population fell by 40,000 in Chicago.

“Economics is what is comes down to,” said Jose Acosta-Cordova, a research assistant for Great Cities Institute (GCI) a research center for the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This makes the African-American population the largest racial group to leave the city.

“A lot of the people leaving are low-income people.” says Rob Paral of Rob Paral and Associates, a consulting firm that helps foundations, service organizations and government agencies understand the communities they serve through applied research methods.

Neighborhoods such as Englewood, comprised mainly of African-Americans, have been hit hard in the past.

“[Englewood] is a low-income, black neighborhood and those are the kind of neighborhoods that people have been leaving.” Paral said.

With a population of 36,568, Englewood saw 22 percent decrease in population from the year 2000 to 2010. It wasn’t until 2010 that the population began to rise once again with a slight increase of 0.3 percent.

Crime and Violence

Chicago’s crime and violence has often been cited as one of the reasons for many leaving the city.

There have been 3,332 people shot as of early December, a number that’s down from 4,097 at that time last year.

“Part of the reason why [African-Americans] are leaving these communities could be due to the violence,” Paral said.

While Paral added that there isn’t much data to answer the question on how much violence and safety plays a role in the departure of Black people, he does mention that it’s a possibility.

“It’s difficult to think that it does not play a role in the decision of a lot of black folks,” he said.

Map: Racial breakdown of some of Chicago's key neighborhoods for population change.


Chicago’s South Side is not the only part of the city affected by crime and violence. The Austin neighborhood, a largely African-American West Side neighborhood, once held the title of most populated neighborhood in the city. While Lakeview gained a small increase in population, it was really Austin’s decrease that led to Lakeview’s new title.

Ira Acree, a pastor in Austin, told the Tribune that people have left the neighborhood due to crime. The article points out that many in the neighborhood are too afraid and unsafe to run simple errands like grocery shopping. The residents in the area often have to drive to nearby neighborhoods and suburbs to do their shopping.

However, Acosta-Cordova was hesitant to blame violence as a factor.

“There is no opportunity for the youth in these neighborhoods,” Acosta-Cordova said. “Factors such as limited schooling options, unemployment issues, the foreclosure crisis contribute to violence. Violence is a result of that and is a part of Chicago’s history and race has nothing to do with it. That is part of the reason why I shy away from talking about it that way in order to reframe the topic.”

Stable Neighborhoods 

Lakeview is not free from crime and violence. Lakeview has witnessed 401 reports of crime. The leading reports of crime include 208 counts of theft and 135 counts of assault.

But the numbers still do not match Englewood’s.

“The question becomes, 'What makes a stable neighborhood?' ” Acosta-Cordova said.

Lakeview has several strong schools to offer, such as Lake View High School and Blaine Elementary. When it comes to the quality of the education and schooling, the highest and most frequent rating is a 10 in the Lakeview neighborhood. The lowest rating is a 2, which is only seen once.

Many of Lakeview’s schools are private fine arts schools, STEM, or very focused on certain subjects/topics, making the education even more valuable because of how renowned and great it is. While Lakeview makes headlines for its remarkable students, Englewood’s makes headlines for the school closures.

The cost of living in Lakeview is 36 percent higher than the Chicago average, and 93 percent higher than the national average. This automatically represents the fact that residents of Lakeview have a high income and salary.

When it comes down to a breakdown of races, 79.9 percent of Lakeview is White which is around 75,000 residents. The second highest race percentage consists of Hispanics which is only at 7.4 percent, which is around 7,000 residents. The lowest race percentage is for African Americans, making up 3.5 percent and 3,332 residents. Lakeview is surrounded by the lake, parks, several popular shops and restaurants.

“Neighborhoods like Lakeview just don’t see the same struggles as African-American communities” says Acosta-Cordova. “Wrigley Field, the developments, the real estate value and investment in it. These all contribute to its success. There isn’t history of redlining and blockbusting like African-American neighborhoods.”

“Lakeview is the opposite [of Englewood]. It’s where young people move after college. They want to live in the city, near the jobs downtown,” Paral said. “These are two perfect example of to the two different directions that Chicago is going.”

Impact of Immigrants and Latinos

Acosta-Cordova said, “Research done at the Great Cities Institute found that of the 60 out of 77 in Latino community areas. Half of those that didn’t lose population. If it weren’t for the Latino population, if it weren’t for the influx of immigrants in the Gage Parks and Belmont-Cragins’, Chicago’s population loss could have been much worse."

The Latino population made up 29.7 percent of Chicago’s population in 2016, based on Census estimates. The African-American numbers dropped roughly from 30 percent to 29.3 percent.

Is there a correlation between the influx of immigrants and the loss of Black? No, say Acosta-Cordova and Paral.

“There hasn’t been a distinction made between the two,” Acosta-Cordova said. “The loss in numbers of African-Americans could be more due to there being no steady influx of African-Americans into the city.

“Black and immigrants live in completely different neighborhoods. They’re not in competition with each other. There’s not one group encroaching on the other’s territory. There is some economic competition, but there’s Blacks and Hispanics in Houston and in Los Angeles and you don’t have Blacks living in those cities”

Paral added: “Latino’s are still growing, but more slowly because there is fewer immigrants.”

Revitalizing South Size Neighborhoods

Much attention has been placed on South Side neighborhoods because of the lack of attention paid to from the city.

In recent years, much more attention has been placed on the neighborhood. Englewood Square, located on 63rd and Halsted streets, is now home to a Whole Foods, Starbucks and Chipotle. Something many in the neighborhood never could have imagined.

Photos: View Englewood Square’s transformation

The revitalization process not only comes with the help of Whole Foods but by of the many community organizations present in the neighborhood.

“Our job is to support small business so that they can actually develop their business and have the potential to thrive in the area.” said Tamora Hughes, the program director and grant writer at Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation.

When asked if there was more that the city could do to help the people in that area Hughes said, “the city is the one providing the grant money. Through that we have the opportunity to grant that money … to help rebuild storefronts or build up infrastructures to them.”

Hughes also mentioned that the process was “pretty much a operated community effort.”

Teamwork Englewood, is another organization that offers various programs and service.

Some include the Re-Entry Resource Center which “connects clients to service providers and agencies for counseling on housing, substance abuse and mental health issues, sealing or expunging their criminal records and for other services to help them live productive, drug-free lives,” and Englewood Codes, which teaches the youth in the area how to build mobile phone applications and websites.

What's Next for Chicago? 

According to Census data, if current trends continue, Houston (2.3 million) could eventually take over as the third most populated city in America.

“It is possible,” Acosta-Cordova said. “The growth of Houston has been more rapid. They have a booming oil industry, a lot of employment for residents, less regulations are seen more.”

“I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon,” Paral said. “It is theoretically possible, but it’s hard to say. Houston just got wiped out largely because of floods, so that may set back Houston’s growth.”

Acosta-Cordova added: “After [Hurricane] Harvey, who knows what will happen? There is instability of Houston is being seen. Because of loose zoning laws, developers have been able to do what they want and the reason why the impact of the hurricane was so big.”

Paral cites global warming as an issue to look out for.

“Over the next 50 years, Miami, Houston, and even New York are going to have a big problem,” he said. “Who knows what that will do to population. Chicago is not going to be affected by global warming like that. In the near future maybe Chicago will keep declining, but if you take a step further and look a half a century from now it could be way different.”

So what can the city of Chicago start doing now to stop the outflow of residents?

“Investment in schools, health clinics, public transportation, it’s not equal, it’s not fair,” Paral said. “You need to make all neighborhoods cared for equally by the government. You need to support public schools system instead of lowering investment in them like we have been doing . Those are things that make the city desirable and livable.”

For more information regarding the most recent population numbers in Chicago, check out the American Community Survey, which gathers information yearly rather than the Census 10-year survey.

Return to The Red Line Project

Feedback: Contact the reporter via Twitter or leave a comment below.