There is no denying Illinois has an outmigration problem. And it is not just retired people leaving Illinois for warmer climates. The most recent data available show that Illinois is losing residents of all age ranges and income brackets. Census estimates claim Illinois’ population shrank by over 104,000 people between July 2021 and July 2022. These numbers are the second worst in the nation. It is especially disheartening when states all around Illinois are experiencing an increase in population.
It is no secret why people are leaving, and I have written many times about high taxes, the unfriendly business climate, corruption, and misguided policies that drive families, businesses, and jobs out of the state.
But one group that is leaving Illinois in increasing numbers is young adults. These are people who went to college or trade school, earned their degrees and certifications, and then left Illinois to launch their careers in other states. While all outmigration is concerning, these departures are the ones that bother me the most, for they are the ones that are taking their skillsets, bright ideas, and income potential and making a choice not to live and raise their own families in the same state where they grew up. They believe a more fruitful life is available to them somewhere else.
While we must do everything we can to reverse this disturbing outmigration trend, we are very fortunate in this area to have some emerging young adult leaders who have not only decided to stay in Illinois but are also rolling up their sleeves and becoming involved as public officials. With impressive college degrees that could earn them generous salaries in the private sector, these Gen Xers are making a choice to invest in Illinois and fight for the future they believe is attainable here and that all Illinoisans deserve.
In November of 2022, Brad Fritts of Dixon made history when he became the youngest individual to ever be sworn into the Illinois General Assembly. At the age of 23, he now represents the 74th District, which includes all or parts of DeKalb, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside Counties. He has a degree in Agricultural and Consumer Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and when he is not in Springfield or serving the needs of his constituents in the 74th House District, he farms with his family. He also volunteers in his community and is an active member of St. Patrick’s Church in Dixon, where he is a member of the Knights of Columbus. Representative Fritts also assists with Meals on Wheels and helps at a local food pantry.
His interest in politics led him to become involved, and when the longtime State Representative from his hometown moved on, he decided to run for public office and have a voice in fostering change.
At the same time, Brad Fritts was launching a campaign for State Representative, a 22-year-old from Freeport was also taking steps to run for public office. Jazmin Wingert, having recently completed her bachelor’s degree in Agribusiness at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, saw an opportunity to become more involved in county-level government when the Stephenson County Clerk and Recorder announced her retirement after 24 years of service. Like Fritts, Jazmine had an interest in politics and felt she could make a difference. In November of 2022, she became one of the youngest individuals in Illinois to ever be elected as a County Clerk. In this role, she supervises local and county elections, oversees the voting process, and certifies the winners. She also oversees voter registration and keeps birth, death, marriage, and land records.
Jazmine and Brad are next-generation leaders that bring a fresh perspective and a younger voice to county and state government, and this region has embraced them. It is refreshing to see young people working hard to improve circumstances for all Illinoisans, and we need more people like them to stay in Illinois and help chart a better future for our state.