By: Leslie Munger*
As parents, we spend our lives doing everything we can to help our children be successful – in sports, extracurricular activities, and most importantly, in school. Raising children is all consuming, from the day they are born until you send them off to college. And then, in the blink of an eye, college is over and they’re graduating and beginning their careers.
Our older son graduated last May from the University of Illinois with his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. I was looking forward to him starting his career somewhere in the Chicago area and living downtown, so we would get to see him frequently.
But wait … we live in Illinois, with the 3rd highest unemployment rate in the country, where the job market is so bad that our new graduates have more job opportunities out of state than in Illinois. So instead of moving our son to an apartment nearby or in the city, we were moving him to Texas. It’s one thing to send your child off to college – quite another to realize that your child is not moving back to Illinois and that your family has been split up.
Why are we in this situation? Why are there so few jobs for our new graduates? The reason is simple: Illinois businesses are not expanding, and many are leaving because Illinois is a poorly managed state. Illinois’ reported unemployment rate of 8.4% remains stubbornly above the national average and our neighboring states, and the third worst in the nation.
We’ve lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the past decade, as manufacturers have moved facilities or expanded their businesses out of state. In January 2014, Moody’s Analytics predicted that Illinois would rank 50th (i.e., last) in job creation this year. And in United Van Lines’ 37th Annual Migration Study, Illinois had the second-highest number of people moving out of state for the second year in a row.
A decade of poor public policy choices have forced Illinois businesses to move to more “business-friendly” states, with lower taxes, fewer regulations, and most importantly, predictable business environments. In Illinois, the business climate has been anything but predictable, with massive unfunded pension liabilities, low bond ratings, increasing regulations, high corporate tax rates, high sales tax rates, “temporary” taxes that some want made permanent, and the ongoing threat of even higher taxes including the “millionaire’s tax” and the graduated income tax. Is it any wonder that businesses have chosen to move or expand elsewhere?
But when we export our new graduates to other states, we lose more than just our children. As taxpayers, we lose an opportunity for a return on our investment. The majority of these children have been educated in our local public schools at taxpayer expense. When our new graduates leave Illinois to begin their careers out of state, we lose our pool of talented future leaders. We lose their energy and ideas, some which will lead to new business development and new jobs.
We lose their purchasing power as they rent apartments, furnish their homes, build their wardrobes, and enjoy local restaurants in states other than Illinois. And we lose their taxable income, so less money goes into state coffers for important programs like education.
If we want to keep our families together, we must have competitive job opportunities in Illinois for our new college graduates to consider as they begin their careers. To do this, we must change our attitude toward employers – and especially small businesses — in our state.
For too many years, Illinois businesses have been looked at as sources of revenue to fund more and more government spending. Successful business owners and leaders, who are the job creators in our state, are demonized as being “1%-ers”. We need to recognize the connection that employers have to family life and that we are all on the same team. Successful businesses benefit all Illinoisans because they pay taxes and create jobs. We should embrace pro-business policies that will help Illinois employers be more competitive. And, we need policies that are predictable over an extended period of time so our businesses can plan and invest.
Thriving businesses will bring economic growth. And economic growth will bring opportunities back to Illinois, so we can keep our families together.
*Leslie Munger is a candidate for Illinois State Representative in the 59th District. Leslie is a native Illinoisan, earning her BS at the University of Illinois and MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She is a former brand management business executive with Unilever HPC/Helene Curtis and Procter & Gamble.