Chicago's population drop could have more impacts beyond falling behind Houston

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Houston is still gaining on Chicago as the Windy City keeps its hold on the title of third-largest in America

NBC Universal, Inc.

New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week showed Chicago losing approximately 8,200 residents in the span of a calendar year, which could not only drop the Windy City behind Houston in terms of America’s largest cities, but could also have big consequences in a variety of other ways.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago lost approximately 0.3% of its population between July 1, 2022 and July 1, 2023. The city’s population is still the third-highest in the U.S., but Houston is rapidly gaining, growing by 0.5% to 2,314,157.

According to an analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute, Chicago could be overtaken by Houston by the year 2035 as America’s third-largest city.

Illinois officials are quick to note that the state was reported to have lost approximately 18,000 residents over a 10-year span in the 2020 Census. The state appealed those numbers, arguing that more than 700 “Group Quarters” were not properly counted, and the Census Bureau agreed, adding 46,400 individuals to the state’s official population.

“This correction will bring in millions in additional federal funding for crucial programs and help ensure future counts reflect the true number of Illinois residents,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

That funding is why Chicago is at risk for more than just losing bragging rights. According to the Census Bureau, data it compiled was used to determine funding for more than 350 federal assistance programs in fiscal year 2021, and was integral to efforts like COVID-19-related relief programs.

Census data is also used to determine funding from the federal government for public transit, housing assistance, child care assistance, and public highways across the United States.

The bureau, citing a study conducted by George Washington University, also emphasized its data’s role in determining funds for direct loans, insurance and other types of payments.

The data is also used to divide the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a formula that is recalculated every 10 years. Illinois’ Congressional delegation was reduced to 17 after the last Census, with Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon all gaining one representative. Texas gained a pair of representatives, giving it 38, second-most to California’s 52.

In fact, Illinois’ Congressional delegation has shrunk in each of the last five censuses taken, dropping from 24 in 1970 to 17 in the current Congress.

Stuart Grannen, an antiques dealer, was a longtime Chicago resident before relocating his business to Texas in recent years.

“Texas has been very good for us,” he said. “We’ve been there almost a year.”

Grannen said that Texas’ ample sunshine and extra room for expansion were both big benefits and draws to the Lone Star State.

“The tax incentives are certainly good. I don’t know if it’s the first reason, but a nice complementary reason,” he said.

The Illinois Policy Institute says that tax incentives are a big draw for states like Texas and Florida in drawing Illinois residents southward.

“The number one reason they cite is housing and job opportunities,” Bryce Hill, a spokesperson for the IPI, said. “It’s pretty simple that Texas and many other southern and western states are making those opportunities more available.”

Still, many Chicago residents interviewed by NBC Chicago said that they have no intention of going anywhere, and are rooting for the city to reduce its loss of residents.

“I wouldn’t want to leave. I love Chicago and all the food and all the different neighborhoods,” Raul Miranda said. “I love how walkable the city is.”

“The winters here in Chicago are not great…but summertime Chicago is why people stay,” Pei Chung added.

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