The residents of the Chicago region are its strongest asset and as such are vital to the region's continued economic success. Every year, the U.S. Census Bureau releases data on migration and population change for the nation, states, counties, and major cities. This Policy Update analyzes trends in this data and their implications for our region, with a focus on both regional population declines as well as those in Cook County and the City of Chicago. The most recent data indicates that the trends driving stagnant population growth rate in the region have persisted, even as our peer regions continue to experience population increases. The most recent Census estimates indicate a population decline in 2015 compared to 2014 and are in line with recent analysis showing international immigration declines, birth rate declines, and new domestic migration losses in the region's collar counties. An estimated population decline in Chicago  is of concern, and builds on a set of negative demographic trends that are occurring not only within Chicago, but many other parts of the region.

Population change in the CMAP region, the City of Chicago, and Cook County

The Chicago region's population growth has been stagnant since the last recession. While a single year of population loss does not indicate a permanent shift, the 2015 estimated population decline for both the City of Chicago and the region overall builds on near-term negative trends. Population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the most populous U.S. regions have been experiencing population growth, with moderate growth rates in established regions and higher rates in Sun Belt and southern metro areas. Between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2015, the median growth rate among incorporated places of 50,000 or more residents was 0.8 percent; among the top 100 most populous places it was 4.6 percent; and among the top 10 most populous areas it was 6.1 percent. That rate was 0.8 percent in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metropolitan statistical area (MSA) over the same period.

The  Chicago MSA remained the third most populous region in 2015, and the City of Chicago remained the third most populous city. Among the top 10 most populous MSAs, the Chicago MSA continues its trend of ranking last in population growth between 2010-15. Among the 54 MSAs with at least 1 million residents in 2015, Chicago ranked 45 in population growth. In comparison, two Texas MSAs -- Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth -- were the fastest growing, with their population increasing by 12 and 10 percent, respectively.  This is in line with the nation's trend of stronger population growth in southern and Sun Belt regions.

Growing regions such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., all experienced faster rates of population growth than older, established regions such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Boston.

The most recent population estimates have revealed a concerning finding: Among its cohort, the Chicago MSA was the only region that experienced population decline in 2015. Growing regions demonstrated higher rates of population increases than established regions, which had population increases of 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent. While Chicago is an older, urbanized region that could expect lower rates of growth than fast-growing Sun Belt metros, the region's growth is substantially slower than its peers.

To better understand population growth trends, CMAP analyzed population estimates for core cities as well as the core and collar counties in the Chicago MSA and four peer regions (New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia). For this analysis, the core city is considered the most populous city in the MSA. The core county is where the core city is predominantly located; population estimates in this update exclude the population of the core city. (Note that the Philadelphia city and the county boundaries are coterminous.) Collar counties refer to the remaining counties in the MSA, comprising each region's suburban population base. The in-depth analysis into components of the metropolitan area mirror regional findings; at all geographic scales, the Chicago region's growth rate is lagging behind peer regions.   While Chicago and Cook County have recent estimated declines, population growth trends throughout the region are of concern.

The City of Chicago, Cook County, and the collar counties remained stagnant or grew at a significantly smaller rate than their counterparts in peer regions. The Census estimates that the population of the City of Chicago grew at the same rate as the MSA, approximately 0.8 percent, between 2010-15. In comparison, the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles experienced population growth rates 3 to 9 times the City of Chicago's growth rate and exceeded their respective MSA growth rates. In the New York and Boston regions, the core cities' growth rates surpassed the rates of both the core counties and the collar counties. This continued prior year trends. In contrast, between 2014-15, the City of Chicago was the only core city to experience population loss (approximately 3,000 residents). This builds on the city and region's overall slowing population growth since 2010.

Suburban Cook County's population remained relatively stagnant between 2010-15, increasing by only 0.6 percent. Meanwhile, the suburban proportions of the core counties of peer regions grew at a rate 4 to 10 times Cook County's rate (approximately 1 percent). Suffolk County in the Boston region experienced the fastest growth rate among core counties in this cohort. None of the core counties in the Chicago region's established peer regions grew at a faster rate than its core cities or surrounding counties. In other peer regions, growth in core cities supported strong regional growth. Regardless, both are linked -- strong collar county population growth rates occurred in peer regions with stronger overall population growth. 

Drivers of population change

The population decline within the city of Chicago is likely linked to factors driving the population decline in Cook County overall. Understanding the drivers of population trends can point to strategies to help grow the region's population. The U.S. Census uses four components to develop these annual population estimates -- births, deaths, domestic migration, and international migration. The following analysis reviews these components of change within the CMAP region and peer regions, analyzing both "core" counties, like Cook County, as well as each region's more suburban and rural "collar" counties.

Many factors drive population change, but all of them point to recent slow growth in the Chicago region. These drivers are not the same region wide -- Cook County's growth is fueled by both natural increase (the balance of births and deaths) and international immigration, while the rest of the region grows from a mix of the factors listed above. The most recent data show that the rest of the region outside of Cook County is experiencing greater levels of domestic outmigration for the first time. Shifts in these historic patterns are contributing to slow growth. 

CMAP analysis indicates that each peer region's growth depends on a differing mix of demographic factors. While there are some typical patterns, such as declining birth rates and domestic outmigration from core counties, each region is also somewhat unique. In the Chicago region, the factors that typically drove growth -- international immigration and natural increase -- have declined without commensurate increases in other factors. Emerging domestic migration patterns also appear to be negatively affecting the region's more suburban areas for the first time.

Net Domestic and International migration

Domestic migration -- movement to other parts of the region, state, or nation -- is a major component of population change. Established, urbanized regions exhibit a similar pattern to the Chicago region: net negative domestic migration. For our peers, overall regional domestic outmigration was stronger pre-recession and is only more recently returning to pre-recession levels. All of our peers also experience net negative domestic migration from the core county containing their major city. But there are disparate domestic migration trends between the peer collar counties. Traditionally, portions of the Chicago region have grown from domestic migration. This paradigm has shifted over the last five years. Now, Cook County's domestic outmigration has slowed, and the region's collar counties have experienced sustained, net domestic population loss for the first time. Chicago and Philadelphia are the regions in this peer set that have recently experienced net negative domestic outmigration in collar counties.

International migration has also historically been a key driver of population growth in Cook County and peer core counties.  Just as domestic outmigration is typical for these counties, positive international immigration flows help major cities and core counties grow.  All peer core counties have experienced a decline in international migration since the recession, but this has occurred most strongly in Cook County in the Chicago region. CMAP region's collar counties show a similar trend of not keeping pace with peer regions. 

Declining birth rates

The national birth rate is declining, and this trend is also occurring within the Chicago region. But the decline in birth rate here appears to be stronger than the declines for peer regions. Births have historically been the largest driver of population increase in Chicago's collar counties. Since 2009, however, the number of births has declined. The region's collar counties also have one of the largest decreases in births after New York. During this same time period, Chicago's collar counties also began experiencing net negative domestic migration, resulting in slower growth for the region. Total births have remained relatively stable in other peer collar counties, although overall rates are still declining.

Looking ahead: ON TO 2050

Understanding population trends is integral to CMAP's and its partners' work to support the regional economy. The analysis of the most recent population estimates indicates that the Chicago region continues to substantially lag peer regions in population growth. The population declines in the City of Chicago and Cook County and the stagnant growth of the collar counties builds on trends in international immigration, birth rates, and new domestic migration losses. Overall, slow population and economic growth trends are linked. While some recent, positive trends have the potential to support new economic growth and attract new residents, broader shifts in the region's industries, slower growth in the manufacturing cluster, changing resident preferences, and the State's fiscal condition may continue to present challenges. To continue to grow our resident base, the region must work to provide strong economic opportunities.

Past CMAP analysis has highlighted the importance of regional coordination on economic issues and support for the region's economic clusters to help ensure the broader success of our region's economy. The success of the region's economic clusters is dependent in part on a skilled and sufficient workforce. In order to foster and attract the labor force to support our regional economy, stakeholders must continue to collaborate on workforce development initiatives, enhancing livability, and creating an environment to improve access to health, housing, and economic opportunities to all populations.

Upcoming analysis supporting development of ON TO 2050, the region's next comprehensive, long range plan, will provide further information on demographic and economic shifts in the region. An economic clusters snapshot will highlight the changing composition of the region's economy and the importance of our connections to the global economy. A subsequent demographic snapshot will highlight shifts in the region's population and the growing racial and ethnic diversity of the region's population.