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Charting Chicago's lagging growth

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Charting Chicago's lagging growth

By Kyle Bentle, Chicago Tribune

Sep 21, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Chicago's position as the nation's third-largest city could be in danger, a recent report shouted. A Reuters story last week said the population of Houston could surpass Chicago's in the next 8 to 10 years. This is consistent with U.S. Census Bureau data that details how Chicago's population has been lagging, while other large cities still grow.

Data released by the Illinois Department of Health in February show that the population for Chicago, about 2.7 million in 2010, could decrease by 3 percent to 2.5 million by 2025. Meanwhile, Houston's population could reach 2.54 million to 2.7 million in 2025, according to the Reuters report. But a recent population estimate by the Census Bureau shows an increase in population, rather than a decrease.

Census estimates released in June show that the population of Chicago increased by 1 percent from 2010 to 2014. So why is one projection showing a decrease, but another an increase?

Both data sets are based on estimates and assumptions, says Rob Paral, a Chicago-based demographer. Unlike the 2000 or 2010 census, where all residents answer a questionnaire, any interim projections or estimates must use sampling or a formula based on past population statistics to calculate population.

A health department official, when asked about the bump in 2014 versus the decline in the 2015 projections, stuck with the original report.

"Trend data do not support any increase in the projections for Chicago in the next 10 years," said Bill Dart, the deputy director of policy, planning and statistics at the health department. Dart explained that the estimates from the census use a different formula than the health department. And factors such as births, deaths, migration, economic boons or natural disasters can disrupt projections.

Despite the minor bump in 2014 from the census, the big picture is that Chicago growth has been flat in recent years, Paral said. Chicago's population increase from 2010 to 2014 was the smallest posted by any of the 10 largest cities. Houston, and other Southwestern cities such as San Antonio and San Jose, Calif., are growing at a much faster rate.

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