President Barack Obama has been touring the country touting the latest Beltway buzzword, “middle-class economics.”
During his State of the Union address in January, Obama even went as far as saying that Illinois is a “microcosm of the country.” Unfortunately this is true, but not in the way the president meant. Illinois has embraced the president’s national progressive policies, and the state is floundering as a result.
[sharequote align="center"]The Land of Lincoln has not forged a path the country should follow.[/sharequote]
While the rest of the country has slowly recovered from the Great Recession, Illinois has been left behind. Nearly 300,000 fewer Illinoisans are employed now than before the recession; this makes Illinois dead last in recovering employment losses. In the meantime, enrollment in government programs such the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, has reached new heights.
And people are voting with their feet by leaving Illinois for greener pastures. U.S. Census Bureau data show 95,000 people left the state in 2014. This only makes sense, given the state’s record-low rate of job creation. People are moving to states like Texas and North Dakota, which have stronger jobs growth and a lower tax burden.
What are the driving forces behind this exodus? A lack of jobs, stemming largely from the fact that it is incredibly expensive for companies to do business in the state.
Not only did Illinois raise the state income tax in 2011, taking an additional $31 billion from state taxpayers, but state politicians are eying another one of the president’s biggest political talking points: raising the minimum wage.
In this photo taken, Aug. 1, 2013, demonstrators protesting what they say are low wages and improper treatment for fast-food workers march in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Illinois already has the fourth-highest minimum wage in the country and elected officials are debating increasing it even more. Chicago just passed an ordinance to set the minimum wage in the city at $13 an hour by 2019, excluding anyone working in a temporary youth employment program or some transitional employment programs.
Studies from Cornell University show that employment losses from increasing the minimum wage hit young African-Americans four times as hard as non-black workers. The unemployment rate for blacks in Chicago is 25 percent. Unfortunately, minorities in Chicago don’t need to hear this statistic to know how a high minimum wage hurts their chances of finding a job.
Young people and minorities in Illinois have felt many of the negative impacts from the president’s policies being carried out in his home state.
Hispanic employment in Illinois fell by 8.7 percent between 2006 and 2013, and black employment dropped by 10 percent in the same time. Illinois teen employment is lower than any Midwestern state. Only 26.3 percent of Illinois teenagers are working, compared with 50.9 percent in North Dakota and 42.3 percent in Wisconsin. And just 59.4 percent of young adults between 20 and 24 are working, while 77 percent and 72 percent have jobs in North Dakota and Wisconsin, respectively.
The Land of Lincoln has not forged a path the country should follow.
Illinois isn’t the only state where high taxes and a high cost of doing business are hurting residents. New York, believe it or not, is the only state losing residents faster than Illinois. Along with New Jersey, another state people are fleeing, both states have the highest local and state tax burdens in the country.
If Illinois is truly a microcosm of the United States, that doesn’t bode well for the state of the union.
Bryant Jackson-Green is a policy analyst with the Illinois Policy Institute.
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