By Jim Davis
What the locals say
The Prairie State’s economy is recovering but still hurting.
It’s a party that’s 200 years in the making.
The Prairie State, as Illinois is known, celebrates its bicentennial this year
with a series of events leading up to Dec. 3 — the anniversary of when it
became the 21st state.
Festivities are planned all over the state. There are Abraham Lincoln impersonators, a cross-state motorcycle ride to be led by Gov. Bruce Rauner and
even an official beer — 1818 Prairie State Farmhouse Ale by the Hand of Fate
The state boasts a storied history. Think Union Stock Yards and Chicago’s
rise as an economic powerhouse, the gangland scene during Prohibition,
The Second City comedians, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and, of course,
NFL football’s Monsters of the Midway, otherwise known as Da Bears.
It’s present, however, can be summed up in one word: lackluster. Illinois has
recovered from the Great Recession, but growth has been tepid.
The unemployment rate for Illinois stood at 4. 7 percent this past February,
but that’s worse than the national rate of 4.1 percent. In fact, the state has
had a higher unemployment rate than the U.S. average every month except
for one in the past decade, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Illinois is one of only three states in the U.S. to see a decline in population this
decade, dropping 0.2 percent, from 12. 83 million in 2010 to 12. 8 million in 2017,
according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The other two states experiencing population declines during the period were Vermont and West Virginia.
Overall, the U.S. population has grown by 5. 5 percent over that same time.
The state reported a per capita personal income of $52,808 in 2017, which
ranks 15th in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
But personal-income growth has lagged behind the national average over
the past decade, growing at 2.3 percent compared with the national growth
rate of 3.2 percent.
Illinois’ woes are exacerbated by a feuding state government that failed to
pass a budget for two straight years. Lawmakers finally passed one last year,
but the damage was done: Illinois had the worst credit rating of any state in
the nation at the time.
Despite its struggles, Illinois still has a lot going for it, however. It’s the sixth
most populous state in the nation. Chicago is the third largest city in the U.S.,
with a population of 2.7 million. The state also is home to the headquarters
of 14 of the world’s 500 largest companies, including Boeing, Caterpillar and
State Farm. n
Home sales and prices
The Illinois housing market has recovered since the Great Recession,
with median home prices and the number of closed home sales on
a steady upward slope over the past 10 years. The statewide median
home price was $205,000 last year, according to the Illinois Realtors.
That’s up 46 percent from 2011, when the median home price was
The number of closed home sales climbed to a high of 111,501 in 2017,
up from 77,297 in 2011. The inventory of homes for sale has dropped
from a 9.9-month supply in 2011 to a 3.3-month supply in 2017. In 2011,
homes sat on the sat market, on average, for 106 days, according to
Illinois Realtors. Last year, that number dropped by nearly half, to
Illinois Single-Family Home Market
Source: Illinois Realtors
Closed sales Median sales price
Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University
“Chicago is a big and complicated place. If you look at the
economy of the region, you do see areas that are doing well. …
There have been a couple of pundits who have described it as
a sort of a duckbilled platypus. It has significant swaths of the
city that look like Manhattan, but you have parts of the city that
look like [the worst parts of] Detroit.”