How baby-making fun will save America (and maybe Illinois)

How baby-making fun will save America (and maybe Illinois)

Nobody can be predict the future, but, boy, is it fun to try.

Sometimes it's easy, such as "Herman Cain will not be the next president of the United States."

Sometimes it's hard, such as "The Chicago Cubs will win the World Series at least once in the next century."

But what about the future of the United States and, more specifically, Illinois? Author Joel Kotkin had messages for both at a discussion last week hosted by the Illinois Policy Institute.

• To the U.S.: The future is bright!

• To Illinois: Eh, you have some work to do. Unless, of course, you want Indianapolis laughing in your face in 20 years.

Kotkin, author of the "The Next Hundred Million: American in 2050," posited during the discussion and in his book that population trends have the United States in a good position to succeed in the next few decades.

In Europe and Asia – America's biggest competitors on the global scene – population trends are pointing down. At the discussion, Kotkin said that at the current pace, in 2050, 60 percent of Italians will have no experience as a brother, sister, uncle, aunt, or cousin. (They will, however, continue to despise the "Jersey Shore" cast for coming to their country.)

The U.S., however, is the sole advanced country projected to have a large, growing population, Kotkin said. It also still has plenty of natural resources, especially when it comes to fresh water. The Great Lakes essentially are our pot of gold at the end of the Rust Belt.

Natural gas could be the game-changer for the United States, Kotkin said. And while the U.S. share of manufacturing world output is declining, but stable, it's starting to come back, he added.

But population growth is the key.

"I don't think it's possible to have prosperous economy without a prosperous population," Kotkin said. "What happened in Japan is a warning of what happens long-term. Their economy has no energy to it at all."

In his book, Kotkin writes that population trends show that the U.S. should have one hundred million more people by 2050. And that influx of people brings with it ingenuity and growth.

Despite Kotkin's rosy outlook for America, though, Illinois and Chicago have some work to do. There are lots of states in this country that are doing things right, he said. Illinois is not one of them.

One of the problems, Kotkin said, is that Chicago wants to be New York.

"Being a New Yorker," Kotkin said, "I will say, forget about it. … Chicago is and should be the heart of this huge heartland. You competition is not New York. Your competition is Dallas and Houston."

The City of the Big Shoulders has become the City of the Shrinking Expectations. But population and job trends have brought us to this future. As Kotkin rattled through slides and slides of statistics, nothing looked particularly good for Illinois and Chicago. Illinois has lost the highest percentage of high-tech jobs in the country. Job growth in Chicago from 2008 to 2011 is doing worse than the U.S. as a whole. More people are moving out of Illinois and Chicago than moving in. It was just bad news after bad news.

The migration rate is especially alarming. Illinois is gaining residents from just Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey, Kotkin said. It's losing people to Indiana and Wisconsin at an alarming rate. While the native Hoosier in me can't help but feel a bit of pride in this, the current Illinois resident in me is thinking, "Seriously, you're getting your butt kicked by Indiana. Have you seen their football teams?"

Kotkin also listed off some possible competitors for Chicago in the next 40 years, places such as Minneapolis, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Omaha and Des Moines. Yes, he said Sioux Falls. I honestly didn't even know what state Sioux Falls is in. I had to look it up. I was slightly suspicious that it was imaginary.

"Your competition is becoming very different," Kotkin said. I'll say. Who knew we would be competing against imaginary cities. What's next? Katmandu?

And then there's THE threat.

"The city of Indianapolis is a major threat to Chicago longterm," Kotkin said. "Indiana is coming on in a big way."


"They're eating your lunch," Kotkin said.

Obviously, something is amiss in Illinois and Chicago. We're not creating enough jobs. We're losing people. And we're not gaining enough people. Even immigrants are starting to stay away from Illinois, Kotkin said. And while some might think that's a good thing, it's a terrible reflection on the economic state of Illinois. Immigrants are smart. They don't go to places where there are no jobs.

I don't know what Illinois needs to do to turn things around. I'm fairly sure our politicians don't either. I just hope we get our butts into gear before the states and cities around us really start doing it for us.

Oh, and keep having those babies. For America.

Filed under: Joe Grace Columns

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