Chicago metropolitan area population decline being addressed through revitalization projects

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone and Maggie Green WLS logo
Thursday, May 4, 2023
Chicago metro area saw almost 300K leave in last 5 years
This Chicago metropolitan area, which includes Naperville and Elgin, saw nearly 300,000 people leave in just the last five years.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The number of people leaving the Chicago area continues to grow, according to new data analyzed by the I-Team.

People seem to be talking about it all the time: Why are so many people leaving the Chicago area?

"I'm very happy with the move I made to Georgia. It's been six months now and I'm very relaxed here," said Deborah Moore.

Moore was born and raised in Auburn Gresham, but recently became part of a trend of residents moving out of the Chicago Metro Area. Her new home is just outside Atlanta, Georgia.

"Other than having family here, I wanted to slow down, I wanted to have time for myself. I wanted less of a cost-of-living burden," she said.

The ABC Data Team looked at relocation trends by analyzing United States Postal Service change-of-address forms. They found that over the last five years, more people left the Chicago metro area, which includes suburban Naperville and Elgin, than moved in, a net loss of at least 294,000 people. Only New York City and San Francisco saw bigger population declines.

"A lot of these decisions to move aren't being made willfully. Chicago is losing a lot of the working class and blue collar jobs," said Iván Arenas of UIC's Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy.

A MacArthur Foundation/UIC data report analyzing Chicago Metro population trends also found that the lack of racial and economic equity and lack of affordable loans have caused people to move out of the region.

Florida and Texas are top destinations. Black residents are mostly heading to Georgia.

"The rent burden of the Black community is, for example, very high. They are paying a lot more than 30% of their income on rent," Arenas said.

Moore's former Auburn Gresham neighborhood was hit particularly hard, losing the most residents in recent years: 17,000 Black residents from 1990 to 2020. About one-third have left in the last 10 years.

"As we speak, there's about $170 million of development, construction and investment happening within a two and a half three block radius," said Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation which wants to reverse that trend.

After winning more than $20 million in financial prizes from Chicago community investment initiatives, they are developing a Health and Wellness Campus at 79th and Halsted. A once-vacant building has been transformed into the Healthy Lifestyle Hub that offers free legal services, housing and senior services. It has a bank, space for local business vendors and a farmer's market.

Auburn Gresham resident Flora Arnold appreciates the fresh produce.

"We need to do more to keep your community together and with this market and the clinics, it helps a lot," she said.

Surrounding the Hub will be two affordable housing developments with retail space, an upgraded Save-a-Lot grocery store, a nine acre Urban Farming Campus and the community's own Metra station. The project provides resources for the neighborhood and job opportunities.

"This is a great place a good opportunity to get decent employment, buy wonderful housing stock, wonderful opportunities to grow your families," Nelson said.

Moore is staying put in the south, but she's also happy to know her old neighborhood is being revitalized.

"It is something the community sorely needed," she said.

Another study shows that Cook County lost 68,000 people between July 2021 and July 2022, according to recent US Census estimates. Only Los Angeles County in California saw a bigger population decline.