SPRINGFIELD – Nearly every county in Illinois lost population over the past decade, mirroring a national trend of greater concentrations of people leaving rural areas and moving to larger metropolitan areas.
That’s according to the latest numbers released Thursday, Aug. 12, by the U.S. Census Bureau showing detailed population numbers from the 2020 census for cities, counties and small geographic areas.
In April, the Census Bureau released statewide numbers that determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state receives. That report showed Illinois’ overall population had shrunk by 18,124 people, to a little more than 12.8 million.
That was a much smaller decline than many people had expected, but it did result in Illinois losing one congressional seat, meaning there will be only 17 districts instead of 18 when the 2022 elections are held.
The new data released Thursday shows in much greater detail exactly where the population changes occurred. Those numbers are intended to be used to redraw congressional and state legislative district lines so that all residents are represented as equally as possible in both state and federal governments.
Within Illinois, Cook County and its surrounding collar counties all grew by less than 5 percent. The same was true for Carroll County in northwestern Illinois, McLean and Champaign counties in central Illinois, and Effingham and Williamson counties in southern Illinois.
Grundy County, on the southwest edge of the Chicago metropolitan area, was the fastest-growing county in the state at over 10 percent. And Johnson County in southern Illinois had a growth rate between 5 and 10 percent.
Also in 2020, the Census Bureau refined the way it tracks race and ethnicity. That information is also important for redistricting in order to prevent minority populations from being broken up or diluted among districts, or from being overly concentrated in too few districts.
People who identify themselves as white continue to be the largest racial group in the country at 61.6 percent of the population, while people who identify as white alone or in combination with some other race make up 71 percent.
Illinois is slightly less white than the nation as a whole, with 61.4 percent nationally identifying as white alone and 69.7 percent identifying as white alone or in combination with another race.
People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up the largest ethnic minority group in Illinois at 18.2 percent, or just over 2.3 million people.
Blacks make up 14.1 percent of the Illinois population, higher than the national average of 12.4 percent, while Asian Americans make up 5.9 percent and 8.9 percent identify as being from two or more races.
* * *
EVICTIONS MORATORIUM: Since March 2020, Illinois residents unable to pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic have been protected from eviction through Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive action, but that reality could change come Sept. 1 when executive and Illinois Supreme Court orders are scheduled to expire.
For some landlords, that’s welcome news after a 17-month prohibition, except in limited health and safety circumstances, on residential evictions. But for housing advocates and renters, it puts Illinois in a “great period of uncertainty,” with tens of thousands of renters at risk of losing their homes as court hearings begin for the first time in over a year.
Meanwhile, a new, more transmissible delta variant of the COVID-19 virus that led to those executive actions is surging, sending hospitalizations and positivity rates skyrocketing, especially among unvaccinated individuals.
Amid the rising cases and a new federal moratorium that could be in place until Oct. 3 if the courts permit it, the governor’s office did not directly respond to a Capitol News Illinois question this week as to whether he was considering issuing a new or extended moratorium.
Jose Sanchez Molina, a spokesperson for the governor, issued a statement saying it is “critically important for the administration to provide much-needed support for Illinois residents as part of the gradual phaseout of the eviction moratorium.”
The statement also noted that enforcement “has not begun as the state is diligently working to ensure that residents are aware of and apply to available aid,” and the administration “has worked alongside our courts to establish a process that includes a step to educate residents on available aid before eviction enforcement begins.”
What comes after Sept. 1 is not immediately clear, but housing stakeholders, key state agencies and court representatives reached by Capitol News Illinois said it will likely depend on the pace of distribution of aid, whether the new federal eviction moratorium is found legally permissible and whether Pritzker decides to issue a new moratorium.
But if nothing changes, many renters’ and landlords’ futures will largely revolve around the state’s court system, in particular the county and judge which are handling the eviction case, as well as the administration of a soon-to-launch court-based aid program.
* * *
STATE FAIR: After a one-year interruption last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois State Fair in Springfield reopened Thursday, Aug. 12, with some new attractions and new safety requirements.
Among the new requirements, Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II said, is a mask mandate at all indoor venues.
For those who arrive without masks but who plan to attend indoor events, free masks will be available at all entry gates, he said.
And while it won’t be required, officials also are strongly encouraging fairgoers to wear masks in large gathering.
Other safety measures being taken include extra hand washing stations throughout the fairgrounds, cleaning of high-touch areas, and foggers on carnival rides and grandstand seating. There will also be free vaccinations available at six locations on the fairgrounds.
Among the new attractions this year is a tribute to Route 66, which stretched nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, winding its way through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. This year marks the 95th anniversary of the establishment of that highway, one of the original roadways of the U.S. highway system.
The “Route 66 Experience” at the fairgrounds will allow visitors to walk through exhibits commemorating the Illinois portion of the highway from Chicago to the Chain of Rocks Bridge and learn about communities and attractions along the route.
Masks will be required for all grandstand concerts, and those in the grandstand track standing room only section will be required to provide a print or digital copy of vaccination records or a negative COVID-19 test result within three days prior to the event.
A complete list of events and entertainment lineups is available on the Illinois State Fair website, www2.illinois.gov/statefair.
* * *
BUTTER COW: The final preparation for the opening of the 2021 Illinois State Fair took place Wednesday, Aug. 11, with the traditional unveiling of the butter cow.
This year’s sculpture, which marks the 100th anniversary of the fair’s butter cow, is entitled “Embracing Tradition.” It features a dairy farmer embracing a cow. Hidden within the sculpture are 13 hearts, signifying the 13 essential nutrients found naturally in milk.
“After a year where the world stopped, I felt including an exhibitor embracing the cow signifies the joy our youth are experiencing as they return to the fair,” butter cow sculptor Sarah Pratt, of Iowa, said in a news release. “You only get one chance to celebrate the 100th anniversary and I hope this year’s Butter Cow will invoke those feelings of nostalgia people have experienced for generations.”
Gov. JB Pritzker and First Lady MK Pritzker took part in the ceremony along with Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II, Midwest Dairy Association board member Donald Mackinson, and this year’s Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Kelsi Kessler.
“What an ‘udder’ delight to be here,” Kessler quipped before the unveiling. “With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the unofficial trademark of the Illinois State Fair, you ‘butter’ believe that fairgoers are excited.”
* * *
FAIRGROUNDS PLANS: The state of Illinois is teaming up with the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln to develop a master plan for year-round use of state fairgrounds facilities in Springfield and Du Quoin.
Gov. JB Pritzker and Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II made that announcement Friday, Aug. 13, along with John Stremsterfer, president and CEO of the foundation.
“Today, we honor the legacy of paving an even better path forward for these fairgrounds for generations to come,” Pritzker said during a news conference early Friday morning outside the Department of Agriculture building next to the Springfield fairgrounds. “That’s our intention. That’s what our state fair advisory board is tasked with.”
The larger state fair in Springfield typically draws more than half a million visitors during its two-week operation, while the Du Quoin fair has been drawing about 100,000 in recent years.
Both fair sites also host other events occasionally throughout the year, but Stremsterfer, who grew up just blocks away from the Springfield fairgrounds, said the idea is to turn them into year-round venues.
“It’s such a great asset for the people in the state of Illinois. I think we all want to be proud of everything that in the state, but especially the property that we’re all responsible for our citizens,” he said. “And I think nothing exemplifies that more than the State Fairgrounds.”
That announcement came on the second day of the 2021 state fair after many of the opening-day events, including a Grandstand concert by rock musician Sammy Hagar, had to be canceled due to a violent storm that swept across central Illinois Thursday. That storm resulted in significant flooding in Gibson City, a town of about 3,000 people roughly 100 miles northeast of Springfield.
* * *
SCOTT’S LAW: Seventeen crashes involving Illinois state troopers or their vehicles have occurred in 2021 as a result of violations to the state’s traffic law known as “Scott’s Law.”
Gov. JB Pritzker signed a new law Thursday, Aug. 12, Senate Bill 1913, allowing judges to issue community service among other penalties to those violating the law, which requires drivers to slow down and change lanes when there is a first responder present with flashing lights stopped on the roadway. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, and Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, D-Naperville, and will take effect in January.
Pritzker was joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and members of the Illinois State Police for the bill signing. All participated in a silent prayer for Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who was shot to death during a traffic stop this week, and her partner who remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds from the attack.
The governor also signed a bill clarifying the scope of Scott’s Law and one creating a database of mental health programs for first responders. All three measures passed the General Assembly with unanimous bipartisan support.
“This is a wake-up call for every resident of Illinois – your distracted driving could be someone else’s worst nightmare, and no text or other distraction is worth that,” Pritzker said at a bill-signing event at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield. “So next time you hit the road – to be clear, every time you hit the road – please remember the real risks of not honoring Scott’s Law.”
ISP reported 1,340 violations of the law during the 19-day period between Feb. 18 and March 7, according to the governor’s office.
* * *
BUSINESS GRANTS: The state announced a $250 million “Back to Business” grant program aimed at assisting small businesses in the recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic shutdowns.
The program is funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden, and it includes specific set-aside amounts for certain uses. Those include $100 million for businesses in areas disproportionately impacted by the pandemic; $30 million for arts and entertainment businesses that haven’t received previous aid; $25 million for restaurants and taverns that didn’t receive money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund; $25 million for hotels; and another $25 million for businesses that didn’t receive Business Interruption Grant funding.
The Business Interruption Grant program was funded through previous rounds of federal aid, distributing $580 million to businesses and day cares. Gov. JB Pritzker said those grants helped more than 9,000 small businesses in 600 communities.
A statement from the governor’s office said the Back to Business, or B2B, program, is the “first in a series of economic recovery programs set to launch by the administration.” The program aims to allow companies to offset losses due to COVID-19 and bring back workers through grant funding that does not have to be repaid.
Pritzker also noted the state approved another $9 million investment in the Community Navigator program, helping to connect “underserved businesses” with the resources available.
“This localized personalized assistance will make this program more accessible for entrepreneurs who are eligible, yet may not know just where to get started or how to get started, whether it’s due to language or to staffing or any number of other reasons that shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving this kind of support,” Pritzker said.
The B2B funding will be administered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which has a map of disproportionately impacted areas and a list of other requirements on its website, Illinois.gov/dceo.
The application period opens Aug. 18.
* * *
FAMILY LEAVE: A new law in Illinois will make it easier for part-time school and college employees to receive paid family and medical leave.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill Tuesday, Aug. 10, lowering the threshold for those workers so that most will be eligible for the benefit after one year of employment.
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, workers are entitled to as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a newborn child, to care for a close relative who has a serious health condition, or to deal with their own serious illness. That expands to 26 weeks to care for a child, spouse or parent who is a service member with a serious illness or injury.
To be eligible, though, the employee must have been employed for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period. That’s a threshold that often can’t be met by many part-time school employees known as education support professionals, or ESPs. Those include paraprofessionals, secretaries, librarians, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others, many of whom work only limited hours during the day, and often only when school is in session.
For those workers, House Bill 12 lowers that threshold to 1,000 hours of work during the previous 12 months. It applies to all employees of school districts, community colleges and public universities in Illinois. It takes effect Jan. 1.
Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, said there are more than 25,000 ESPs within the Illinois Education Association. That does not include those who belong to the International Federation of Teachers, the other major education union in the state, or those who are not union members.
The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly with strong bipartisan majorities – 95-14 in the House; 47-3 in the Senate.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.