Staff Editorial

Chicago and its Hemorrhaging Population

Blanca Vega | The PHOENIXMore than 8,600 people moved out of Chicago in 2016, possibly a result of increased taxes and high crime rates.

For the third year in a row, Chicago has seen a drop in population. In 2014, the city said goodbye to 357 people. In 2015, 4,934 people followed. That number almost doubled in 2016 when 8,638 people left, according to the most recent data by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Why are Chicago residents leaving, and what does it mean for college students soon to graduate and live on their own? The decline could be due to a variety of factors, including taxes, the state budget and crime.

Earlier this year, the average Chicago property tax bill raised 10 percent, causing its price to increase by about $363. Even though the average college student doesn’t own property in Chicago, the tax hike still affects renters. The more money landlords must shell out for taxes, the likelihood of rent being raised increases. Rental properties with five or more units have a median tax rate that is 27 percent higher than owner-occupied houses, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Not to mention that the cost of living in the city is already staggering. To comfortably afford a one bedroom apartment listed as $1,055 in Cook County with a minimum wage salary, you would have to work 85 hours per week, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The more you work to pay those high rent costs, the more money you’ll have to pay in income taxes. In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the state income tax increase was overridden by the Illinois House, increasing the individual tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. That means paying just under an extra $200 in taxes for a minimum wage salary of $15,000 or $360 more for a fresh-out-of-college starting salary of $30,000.

In the same month, Illinois lawmakers approved a state budget after going a historic 736 days without one. It was the nation’s longest budget stalemate to date and was threatening to put the state’s credit rating as junk status — worse than any other state. Normally, states vote on a budget once per year, and the two-year deadlock Illinois went through caused the state to be $15 billion in debt.

One of Chicago’s other biggest problems, besides high tax hikes, is an incredibly high number of crimes. It’s no secret that Chicago has a high crime rate, as the city hasn’t seen one day without a shooting in more than two months. In 2016 alone there were a total of 4,368 shootings — 764 of those being murders — compared to 485 murders in 2015. This gun violence is taking place largely in the south and west sides of the city in mostly disadvantaged neighborhoods, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Chicago has not only received local, daily attention on this topic, but it’s also been brought to light on a national scale with both President Donald Trump threatening to send in federal help and Attorney General Jeff Sessions blaming Chicago’s sanctuary city status for the violence.

This amount of crime could be one reason people are leaving Chicago, whether they’re physically involved or living in a state of worry by living in a city infested with gun violence. The high costs of living here long-term could be another incentive for residents to leave. It’s also likely some people used to be able to afford the cost of living, but not anymore due to the latest tax hikes.

Take the city’s new bag tax that was implemented at the beginning of 2016 as an example of an additional frustration of living in Chicago. At all Chicago stores, a seven cent tax was put into place as an attempt to reduce waste in landfills, where the plastic bags offered at checkout would often end up. The good news is that the plan to cut down on the plastic worked. The bad news is the plan worked too well. Since people adjusted quickly to using reusable bags instead of paying for the plastic ones, the city has only made a fraction of the $9.2 million that was planned.

While the taxes and what they do seem trivial and unimportant, they are also creating more problems, such as the city remaining millions of dollars from their goal budget due to the bag tax. Whether it’s one or all of these reasons, something could be done to make it more feasible to live in Chicago by cutting some of these taxes, instead of adding more, forcing people to make a move.

Chicagoans are already paying a large amount for property tax in their overly charged rent, in a city that has one of the highest crime rates in the country. The city of Chicago needs to do more to draw people in, not drive them out — even if it’s as small a victory as relinquishing the bag tax while continuing to promote reusable bag usage.