States of Discontent

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Longtime readers of TAC are familiar with many of the problems confronting the State of Illinois, mainly due to the diligent postings of fellow Sucker State resident Don McClarey. However, I have to admit I was taken aback by the results of a recent Gallup Poll finding that, when it comes to discontent among its residents, Illinois is literally in a class by itself:

The phrase “if you don’t like it, then you can leave” might be a dangerous thing to say in Illinois.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the state would lose a quarter of its population if every resident who didn’t like it decided to leave it. The poll asked survey-takers to rate their state as a place to live, and Illinois had the highest percentage of people who said it is the worst place to live, at 25 percent.

Illinois was followed by Connecticut and Rhode Island, 17 percent of whose residents rated their states as the worst place to live.

The states with the highest rates in the “best possible state to live in” category were Texas (28 percent), Alaska (27 percent), Hawaii (25 percent) and Montana (24 percent). Only 3 percent of Illinoisans put their state in the same category.

A follow-up story on the poll published today reveals even worse news for the powers that be in Illinois: half of Illinois residents polled say they would leave the state if they could, and nearly one in five Illinois respondents (19%) said they intended to move out within the following 12 months. Connecticut and Maryland placed second and third (49% and 47%, respectively) in the percentages of residents expressing a desire to leave, while only Nevada edged out Illinois in the percentage of residents stating that they planned to move in the coming year (20%). States with the most contented residents included Montana, Hawaii and Maine, where only 23% of each state’s residents expressed any desire to leave.

Links to the full stories and poll results can be found here and here. The poll was conducted between July and December of 2013 with at least 600 residents being polled in each state.

There were five possible responses to the poll question “How would you describe the state where you live?” — worst state to live in, as good a state as any to live in, one of the best possible states to live in, the best possible state to live in, or no opinion.

The poll found that Illinois is by far the most despised state in the Union, with 25% of residents polled describing it as the worst state to live in. Rhode Island and Connecticut are a distant second with 17% rating them as worst; Mississippi is third with 15% saying it was the worst state. Other states with double-digit “worst” scores were Louisiana (13% ), New York (12% ) and New Jersey (10% ).

When we compare the percentages of “haters” (those who described their state as the worst) to the percentages of “lovers” (those who said their state was one of the best, or the best) in each state, we discover that that Illinois is the only state in the union in which haters (25%) outnumber lovers (16% one of best + 3% best), though a slight majority, 54%, say it’s as good as any. Rhode Island has an equal percentage of lovers (14% + 3%) and haters (17%). In every other state,  lovers significantly outnumber haters. Even the notoriously crazy/dysfunctional state of California is far more loved (51%) than hated (6%), as is the ultimate nanny state of New York (41% loved and 12% hated).

The most loved states in the Union by the above metric are Alaska and Montana, where 77 percent of residents think their state is either one of the best or the best. Other highly loved states include Utah (70 percent), Wyoming (69 percent), Texas (68 percent) and Hawaii (68 percent).

One might be tempted to think that the recent harsh winter, or the relative lack of scenery, are a big reason Land of Lincoln residents hate their state. However, a comparison between Illinois and nearby Midwestern states with similar climates, topographies and economies reveals that residents of these other states are significantly happier, or at least more comfortable, with life in their states.

In Iowa, lovers are in the majority at 56%, while in Wisconsin, lovers are a plurality (49%).  In Missouri and Indiana, about two out of three residents say their states are as good as anywhere else (66% in MO and 63% in IN), roughly one in three say they love their state (29% in MO and 34% in IN), and only a tiny minority (3% in both states) hate them. Michigan, a Rust Belt state long weighed down by economic troubles and the collapse of Detroit, has a relatively high percentage of haters at 9%, but 61% of Michiganders still say it’s okay and 28% love it.

Of course, the big question is why Illinoisans hate their state with such a passion  and why such a disproportionate percentage say they want to get out.  As noted above, climate and topography are likely not the problem, nor is a lagging economy alone to blame. High taxes, corruption and lack of trust in state government are very big factors, though states with higher taxes and equally bad or worse reputations for corruption did not register nearly as much hostility.

Personally, I suspect that many of the Illinois haters are persons of conservative political and social convictions who are fed up with its ironclad one-party rule and sharp turn to the left in recent years. With the sole exception of enacting a concealed firearms carry law — a law that likely would never have seen the light of day without a strong push from a federal appeals court — state policy has moved consistently in the direction of ever-increasing nanny-state liberalism, while the Republican Party has collapsed into irrelevance. Like their counterparts in New York, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and pro-traditional marriage residents of Illinois are getting the message that they “have no place” here, so I would not be surprised if many of them have either left or are planning to. Likewise, business owners and others who want to improve their lot financially are getting the message that if they stay, the State will likely keep trying to claim more and more of their income in the form of taxes, licensing fees and other fees.

Some might dismiss these poll results as merely an expression of the natural tendency to assume that the grass is greener elsewhere, or as mere carping by unenlightened citizens who don’t know how well off they really are. Others point out that many of the people who claim to hate their home states will nonetheless stay due to family and employment commitments. It’s true that consideration for spouses and children who don’t want to be uprooted, for elderly parents who need care, or for a loyal customer or client base built up over many years will probably keep many residents of Illinois (and other strongly disliked states) in place for years to come. However, those “anchors” won’t last forever — children grow up, parents and grandparents pass away, workers reach retirement age, or their jobs simply vanish — and once they are gone, a lot of people will be gone with them. As Gallup notes (emphasis mine):

Gallup’s 50-state poll finds some states far better positioned than others to retain residents, and thus possibly attract new ones. This is evident in the wide variation in the percentages of state residents who say they would leave their state if they could, as well as in the percentages who say they plan to move in the next year.

Nevada, Illinois, Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and Connecticut all appear particularly vulnerable to losing population in the coming few years: high percentages of their residents say they would leave if they could, and larger-than-average percentages say they are at least somewhat likely to do so in the coming year. At the other end of the spectrum, Texas, Minnesota, and Maine have little to fear. Residents of these states are among the least likely to want to leave and few are planning to leave in the next 12 months.

If these states sound familiar to readers of Gallup’s previous 50-state poll articles, it’s because several of them also appear at the top or bottom of the states for resident satisfaction with state taxesstate government, and overall perceptions of how their state compares to others as a place to live. Texas is in the top 10 on all three, while Illinois, Rhode Island, and Maryland rank in the bottom 10 on all three.

With that in mind, I think the results of this poll should be a serious wake-up call to all voters, officeholders, and concerned citizens of Illinois and other disliked states that the status quo cannot continue indefinitely.

I now invite readers to share their reasons why they love or hate their home state, whether or not they have moved or plan to do so, and why.


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  1. Bravo Elaine! I often share with my clients my observation that if I were a young attorney I would leave Illinois, and that I could not recommend to a young man or woman that they stay in the state. I have never had any client, and they come from all walks of life, disagree with me, and usually they are more vociferous than I am about current conditions in the Land of Lincoln.

  2. There’s actually much to be said for New York. It’s political class is unedifying, of course. I think just about everyone not on it’s payroll despises the state legislature.

    Sorry to be a bore on this subject, but Illinois has a problem in common with New York and Maryland and a number of other states: the evolution of settlement has been such as to leave it an amalgam of incongruous parts. Downstate Illinois functions as a tributary of metropolitan Chicago. That is neither necessary nor advisable. I’ll wager you have a few other problems: 1. that modes of conducting elections largely eliminate competition and 2. that modes of public finance leave the question of who is responsible for what policy completely muddled and 3. modes of recruitment, compensation, and discipline in the civil service render it ineffectual if not crooked. Reconstituting the state as a confederation of two components (with an adjustable boundary in between) and amending your electoral statutes, civil service law, and public finance trails might help in repairing your political life, which in turn would have knock on effects on your economic life.

  3. I too live in one of these sovereign cesspools, and the main reasons I have not voted with my feet (or rather with the car accelerator pressed to the floor) are that I know too many good people to leave behind and too many good and beautiful places to enjoy. Yes, such people and places are everywhere, but I love my friends and familiarities. If I had a purely utilitarian mindset I would have left long ago.

  4. My first thought is that nobody lives in Maryland or Connecticut because they want to, only because they commute to DC / NYC. New Jersey and Massachusetts are high on the list as well. If my theory is right, then it’s kind of sad that Illinoisans only live there for the commute to Chicago, because that’s in Illinois.

    I assume that Michigan would have been higher in the number of people planning to leave, but the pollsters couldn’t find anyone there.

  5. Speaking as a proud Marylander, I have to say that I hope to stay here the rest of my life. This state has it all: good roads and drivers, low humidity, low taxes, great schools, and above all a state government that really cares about people. There’s no state better. Oh, I’m sorry, I saw that today was the first, and my wall calendar still says April, so I just figured…never mind. I hate it here.

  6. My first thought is that nobody lives in Maryland or Connecticut because they want to, only because they commute to DC / NYC. New Jersey and Massachusetts are high on the list as well. If my theory is right, then it’s kind of sad that Illinoisans only live there for the commute to Chicago, because that’s in Illinois.

    North of a third of the population of Maryland lives in greater Baltimore, a city with its own distinct personality. Every once in a while you’d meet someone there who was commuting to DC or had a pied a terre there but lived in Baltimore (or vice versa). Another third of the population lives in the small cities, small towns, and rural zones. Some commute to Washington or Baltimore, most do not; strange as it may seem, there is retail trade and wholesale trade and farming and factory work and government work outside of major cities. With regard to the peri-urban population, Harford and Cecil counties are oriented toward Philadelphia, not Washington.

    There are several substantial cities in Connecticut, with populations between 400,000 and 800,000. The Bridgeport-Stamford combine is the only one close enough for practical commuting. Nearly half the state’s population is rural and small town. The discontent with Connecticut is a surprise; its just about the most affluent state in the country and has been for some time. It’s on the coast – milder climate than inland. Crime rates are below the national mean…

  7. Pinky: “There’s no state better. Oh, I’m sorry, I saw that today was the first, and my wall calendar still says April, so I just figured…never mind. I hate it here.”
    You would hate it even more if Maryland had passed into law a bill legalizing euthanasia.Thanks to Maryland Right to Life, euthanasia remains against the law, but the barbarians are at the gates.

  8. Art, Connecticut is still up and running, but it is running on fumes. The state government acts as if it is a wealthy state, but most of the wealth from financial services that are tied to New York City, and are a legacy of when the state had no income tax and was thus a haven for fed-up New Yorkers. Once these move away the state is a financial gonner.

    Like half of the other states on the list they regulate anything that moves, since regulations are good, ya know? A few years ago they passed a law requiring all businesses with state contracts to post the home phone numbers of their executives on their web sites, and then they couldn’t understand why businesses seeking state contracts dropped by 90% in one year. I mean, what’s wrong with these selfish businessmen and their evil corporations anyway? Can’t stand a little transparency?

    Also, most of the truly rural areas are underrepresented compared to the suburbs, which along with the cities call the shots in the state. A few of these rural towns can be downright reactionary, but they simply cannot beat the powers in Hartford. For all practical purposes Connecticut is a one party state.

  9. Art, another story: a friend of mine has a small business which for liability reasons had to be incorporated. It didn’t make a lot of money, but it was profitable and fun and he paid his taxes. Then the state passed a $500 minimum annual corporation tax. He shut it down right away.

    Of course that may have been the intention all along. It is a lot easier for the state to monitor 5,000 corporations than 500,000, so why not just get the numbers down? Perhaps the loss of tax income is OK with these people as long as they increase their illusion of control.

  10. In Maryland, it’s not just the heat, it’s the heat, humidity, terrible drivers, awful government…

  11. The state government acts as if it is a wealthy state, but most of the wealth from financial services that are tied to New York City, and are a legacy of when the state had no income tax and was thus a haven for fed-up New Yorkers. Once these move away the state is a financial gonner.

    About 16% of the state’s domestic product is attributable to finance and insurance. I think the national mean is around 7.5%. That sector is abnormally large in Connecticut, but most of the wealth is tied up in other sectors, as it is everywhere.

    I cannot figure why they wanted corporation executives to post their home phone numbers. That having been said, a story. In 1957, people of my acquaintance purchased a house the previous owner of which had been an attorney. There was a general house line and a second line which rang only in the den which the attorney had used for confidential calls when he was working at home. For a mess of reasons, they never had the second line pulled out. If that particular attorney had been an executive at Eastman Kodak facing this problem, he could have ordered a second line which rang only on an extension kept in a cupboard in his basement pantry. I take it the state business is for those companies worth less than the cost of a phone line.

    I think if a three digit processing fee is inducing businesses to go under, I would wager that nearly all were cottage enterprises that had lapsed into inactivity. Just a guess.

    Federal court decisions ca. 1963 required equipopulous districts. This causes all kinds of problems, about which more on another occasion. It does not cause rural areas to be ‘under represented’ in a mechanical sense.

  12. I lived in Baltimore for several years. It is hot at summertime peaks, but no place has an agreeable climate year-round; the street crime is much more anxiety provoking than the heat.

    A resident of Central New York of my acquaintance returned from Georgia after a number of years down South. His comment on climate problems: “I figure you can always put stuff on”. Not everybody sees it that way, which is one reason there’s been such a drain from the Rustbelt.

  13. Yes Art, the business in question was a cottage industry (with travel obligations out of the cottage). No it wasn’t lapsed – not that being lapsed had anything to do with the issue, since a lapsed business doesn’t go under due to a new tax. By definition lapsed businesses don’t pay taxes. And so what? Is the cost of a number of lapsed businesses greater than the advantages (economic and other) to society by successful cottage businesses? I’d say no. It is still a sign of the regulatory state triumphing over all else.

    “I cannot figure why they wanted corporation executives to post their home phone numbers.”
    I basically gave the answer already: a slavish adherence to ‘good government’ ideals, such as ‘transparency’. Look, I would agree that state governments have the power to enact such a requirement, but when a state does something that reduces bidding by 90% it is drastically reducing another ingredient of good government. It’s just stupid. It’s like a married couple agreeing to never go to bed angry and then never going to bed at all because they must fulfill their agreement.

  14. One can find something disagreeable in almost any state.

    I have no experience living in Illinois. I worked in DC for almost six years. I lived in both Maryland and Virginia. Northern Virginia, more aptly named Suburban Virginia, even 25 years ago, had nothing in common with the rest of Virginia. Inadequate roads, townhouse after townhouse, sales taxes on food and clothing and property taxes on cars. Yeech. Maryland assessed a tax on every car brought into the state and Maryland, thanks to Baltimore City and the DC suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, gives the Dhimmicrats a hammerlock on political control. People move to York County, PA and commute to the Baltimore area to escape Maryland taxes. Maryland/DC/VA summers have the heat and humidity of Florida in the summer and dank, rainy winters. Snow flurries cause panic.

    I worked in Cleveland twice. Ohio gives cities the power to assess an income tax on commuting workers – something DC has been screaming for for decades. Still, Cleveland is broke and depressing.

    I was born in Western Pennsylvania and returned when I was 32. Pittsburgh is in many places a beautiful city and I consider the quality of life here to be good. Pennsylvania politics are corrupt, wretched and obnoxious. Almost everyone outside of the five county Southeastern Pennsylvania area loathe Philadelphia. Every presidential election beings about massive voter fraud in Philly. Harrisburg is a little city that is almost a Philly ‘burb and the state government is no better than the Philadelphia government. Pittsburgh hasn’t elected a Republican to any city office since before FDR.

    If Houston, Texas had a National Hockey League team, I would likely be in the Houston suburbs now.

  15. Again, my suspicion is that the disappearing businesses were formal dissolutions of companies not actually doing any business. Just a guess.

    I had a land line for a year I scarcely used (but on which I received quite a few robocalls as well as people looking for the previous holder of the number in question). I am not understanding why, if these people want state business, they do not just post the number of a landline attached to an answering machine which plays the message after one ring.

  16. I live in the state Where Young People Go To Retire. It gets a 61% favorable rating… We moved from Kansas to California to here. We tried to get out once, ten years ago, to Colorado, but had to return for my husband’s job.

    I rate it “as good as any to live in” because my husband has a job that he likes. We are very lucky.

    To have more family nearby would be much better. I plan to encourage my kids to locate in the region, because I have lived through what it’s like to be so far away from family when your children are growing up. Better to have grandparents nearby, and aunts and uncles and cousins.

    But, hey midwesterners, read it and weep: we have no chiggers.

  17. “I am not understanding why, if these people want state business, they do not just post the number of a landline attached to an answering machine which plays the message after one ring.”
    Art, sorry, I was unclear as to your concern. The home address was also required info on the company web site. It wasn’t just the risk of telephone harassment that caused the concern, but the risk of physical harassment and worse. My mind focused on the possibility of telephone harassment since I see that as more likely problem.

  18. “it’s kind of sad that Illinoisans live there only for the commute to Chicago”

    Well, if residents of Springfield, Peoria, Champaign, Carbondale and other town south of I-80 or even I-70 are living there for the commute to Chicago they are going to have an awfully long commute 🙂

    I note that Illinois is geographically much larger than some of the other “hated” states — nearly 400 miles from top (Rockford) to bottom (Cairo) and about 200 miles across at its widest point (Quincy to Danville). Some parts of extreme southern Illinois are closer to Memphis than they are to Chicago, while extreme western Illinois around Quincy is closer to Kansas City (about 220 miles) than Chicago (290 miles). That said, about 2/3 or maybe more of the state’s population lives within 100 miles of Chicago and the suburbs are the fastest growing area of the state; the city has been losing population and so are many downstate areas.

  19. Things could be worse in Illinois.

    Low cost, pollution-free, safe and secure nuclear energy provides 48.9% of the electricity in Illinois with 47.6% from coal, 2.8% from natural gas, and the rest from useless renewable energy. If it were not for nuclear, then residents would not be able to afford their already high electric bills because it costs real money to refuel a coal fired 1000 MW power plant with 22 rail road cars of coal every two weeks (not to mention that all that mega tonnage of carbon ends up being discharged into the air everyone breathes) whereas a nuke gets refueled (just 1/3rd of the core) every 2 years (real cheap, which is why the govt strangles the industry with unnecessary regulation – collusion between fossil corporate executives and politicians).

    Here is a list of Illinois nukes that you can thank that things are not worse:

    Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station

    Byron Nuclear Generating Station

    Clinton Nuclear Generating Station

    Dresden Nuclear Power Plant

    LaSalle County Nuclear Generating Station

    Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station

  20. I know the Constitution makes it tough if not inpossible, but at what point do the extra-urban populations of Illinois, NY State, Maryland, Washington State and Pennsylvania say “ENOUGH!” and sever the ties that bind?
    Big-city tax dollars are addictive to state controllers, and the majorities in the urban centers would be huge impediments; the sway in Congress would be overwhelmingly Republican as rural populations were freed from the urban hordes, but it’s sure fun to imagine . . .

  21. There have been exactly two instances under the current Constitution in which one part of an existing state broke off and formed a new state: Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820, and West Virginia broke off from Virginia in 1863. In both instances, the “seceding” areas were remote rural areas that were physically alienated from the state’s central cities (Maine was and is separated from Mass. by a small strip of New Hampshire; WV is divided from VA by the Appalachian Mts.). Also in both instances, the catalyst for Congress to permit formation of these new states was a national crisis: Maine statehood was part of the Missouri Compromise (a new free state to balance out MO as a slave state) while West Virginia was admitted as a new Union state during the Civil War.

    To this day, both states are economically less prosperous than their “mother” states; rural poverty and unemployment have long been chronic problems for both. Yet, Maine ranks among the states whose residents are LEAST inclined to want to leave, and W. Va. also gets surprisingly high marks from its residents as one of the “best” states. An argument could be made that both states would have been economically better off had they never seceded, but I doubt very much that any Down Easter or Mountaineer would ever favor reunification — because ultimately, it was never about taxation or economics, it was about culture.

    I suspect a similar process would occur were downstate IL or upstate NY ever to form their own states. They would probably struggle economically at least in the short term, say, for the first 20 years or so of statehood, as they would be cut off from the main economic “engines” of their current states. (The commonly voiced belief among downstate IL residents that Chicago as a whole drains state money and resources away from them is a myth; if anything, it’s the other way around, as much of downstate is too sparsely populated to support its own road system and other infrastructure without the fuel taxes and other reciepts collected in the Chicago metro area.) Longer term, perhaps, the new states could catch up as they welcomed businesses driven out of the older states by excessive taxation and regulation, but it would not happen overnight.

  22. TomD, It’s not updated more than annually and often runs a year or two behind, but if you want to locate someone, particularly someone who’s not transient, you can usually find their address in the Polk Directory at the public library. Having the home address on the website reduces shoe-leather costs (and that may be important if your harasser is of the utmost impetuousness), but an established local resident is usually easy to locate.

  23. I was not suggesting secession, but reconstitution into confederation. You’d have some thin filaments connecting the two components (joint commissions), and adjustable boundary between them, and a shared pair of U.S. Senators. Otherwise, the two components would have separate law codes, separate central governments, and lead separate lives.

    You have north of 4 million people in Downstate Illinois, with about 7% in a fragment of greater St. Louis, about 25% in one of ten small cities and the remainder in small towns and country townships. Personal income per capita outside the 7 counties around Chicago averages to about 90% of national means. They can afford to maintain their road system.

    You’d have some frictional costs as a second state capital was set up somewhere around Chicago, as a new superordinate apparat was erected for state employees stationed around Chicago, and as the state’s prison cells were divvied up between the components. I suspect the biggest challenge would be re-working Medicaid re-imbursements, re-working state support for higher education, and distributing responsibility for maintaining the extant state pension system in an actuarially sound condition. You’d have to grandfather the current employees in and then create separate systems going forward.

  24. Sounds great to me Art. I do suspect that dividing states may be a coming cause as gigantic urban centers and the rest of states become ever more alien and hostile to each other. If done in a politically neutral manner, I can imagine that the formal division into separate states of California, Illinois, Texas, etc. might eventually attract bipartisan support.

  25. Texas apparently retains the right to split itself apart into five or seven states.

    I would welcome a split in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties of Chester. Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware should go their own way or join New Jersey. The remainder of Pennsylvania then becomes a red state, Allegheny County notwithstanding. If Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Alexandria went their own way, the rest of Virginia goes red. The rest of New York State would be better off without NYC and Westchester.

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