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Chicago-area population grows at snail’s pace

U.S. Census Bureau data show that even Kendall County, the region’s growth leader, is limping.

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The Chicago region has the slowest population growth of the nation’s 10 biggest metro areas, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

By last July, the population of the region’s 14 counties had edged up to 9.52 million — about 0.28 percent more than a year earlier.

“We’re a big exporter of population,” Chicago-based demographer Rob Paral said. “The only thing that offsets it is immigration. Indeed, if the economy spurred even more native-born people to leave the area, it would take [the] flat growth into negative territory.”

As defined by the bureau, the region includes the Illinois counties of Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will; the Indiana counties of Jasper, Lake, Newton and Porter; and the Wisconsin county of Kenosha.

Most of those counties hovered slightly above zero population growth for a second consecutive year. The number of Cook County residents increased by 0.33 percent to 5.23 million.

Two counties in the region actually lost residents. The Indiana counties of Lake and Newton saw population drops of, respectively, 0.31 percent and 0.62 percent.

Kendall County led the region with a population increase of 1.19 percent — a far cry from that county’s double-digit growth as recently as 2007.

Some distant suburbs that were counting on fast growth have taken desperate steps. Yorkville, a Kendall County city 50 miles southwest of Chicago, on Tuesday extended an offer of $10,000 to anyone who buys a new single-family home there.

Lynn Dubajic, executive director of the Yorkville Economic Development Corporation, calls the program a success. “We’ve done nearly 60 permits since its inception about 14 months ago,” she said.

But some experts warn that exurban towns won’t attract hordes again unless gas prices drop. As for the Chicago region as a whole, they say quicker population growth would depend largely on jobs.

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NOTES: These charts stem from WBEZ analysis of U.S. Census Bureau intercensal estimates for July 1 of each year. The 2000 and 2010 estimates reflect bureau adjustments based on the decennial census. Those adjustments distorted the Chart 2 visualization for 2010. Chart 3, therefore, replaces each 2010 estimate with an average (2009 estimate plus 2011 estimate, divided by two). Chart 4 displays metropolitan statistical areas in order of their population growth rate.

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