Chicago was an amazing, exciting city when my family relocated to the area in the mid-1980’s. “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, and Ferris Bueller showed the nation how much fun could be had in the city.
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 are… 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,” according to the Illinois Policy Institute. In fact, 2021 marked the eighth consecutive year that Illinois saw a decline in its population.
With the country’s highest tax rates, second-highest property taxes, second-highest gas tax, and nation-leading pension debt, Illinoisians are voting with their feet.
Sadly, it is the state’s highest income earners and highest 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 and Citadel are leaving the state. That means, according to iOptimize Realty, Illinois is losing “3 of the 35 Fortune 500 companies based there. But these moves should come as no surprise. Illinois’s regulatory environment, taxes, high crime, and dwindling talent base has earned the state a spot on the list of worst states for business for 11 consecutive years.”
In April 2022, Ken Griffin, chief executive officer and founder of Citadel Advisors, said, “If people aren’t safe here (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 made the decision to leave Chicago in January 2022. My reasons mirrored those of most people leaving the city: crime, taxes, traffic and the lack of support for police from politicians. I was headed for the red clay of Georgia. I had picked out my new house and had my eyes on a brand new bass boat. I was going to live the life I thought I wanted.
Things changed on July 4, 2022. A gunman climbed onto a roof in the affluent Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, and opened fire, killing seven people and wounding dozens 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 the same weekend there were 10 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 2022, 2,352 people had been shot in Chicago, 448 fatally. In 2021 there were 797 homicides in Chicago and 3,561 shootings, per 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% of Chicago Public Schools’ 11th-graders can read and do math at grade level, yet the school district “proudly announced that 84% of students graduated in 2021 – a new record high.”
Poverty is also an issue. “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 that “785,890 people in Cook County, Illinois (where Chicago is located), were food insecure in 2020… a 51% increase since 2018.” That means 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. A city, any city, cannot 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.
And we are needed now more than ever. On Halloween, more than a dozen people were shot at a vigil for someone who had died of natural causes. “Fourteen people were shot, including several children… the youngest victim is 3 years old.”
On Jan. 1, 2023 the so-called Safe-T Act will become law, which basically eliminates cash bail for all crimes except for first-degree murder. It also puts a tremendous amount of burden on police officers, limiting their ability to arrest and detain those who break the law. To quote the podcast host Joe Rogan, “This is crazy!”
What should we do? 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.
We can’t all run to Florida or Georgia. We must stay and fight for change.
Besides, if enough of us stay and fight for change, Chicago just may elect its first Republican mayor since 1927.