#45 Illinois

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The overall freedom ranking is a combination of personal and economic freedoms.

From 2009

Illinois State Overview

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) -5.2 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 1.17 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Illinois is one of the least free states to live in from the perspective of regulatory policy and personal freedom, but on fiscal policy it ranks in the middle of the pack. However, there are still some fiscal issues in dire need of improvement.

Illinois’s tax burden is dead-center average, while government spending and employment are below average. Government spending has been increasing over time, however, and certain categories, such as employee retirement, are way out of line with national norms. The main fiscal problem is debt: state and local debt make up 25.1 percent of personal income.

As for real property rights protection, Illinois’s score is mediocre. Zoning laws rank about average, the state has failed to reform eminent domain significantly, and there are no state-level restrictions on regulatory takings, but the state at least manages to avoid rent control. As for labor law, Illinois possesses the third-highest minimum wage in the nation, adjusted for private wages. As for occupational freedom, the state is below average, and the quality of its court system is well below average—and dropping. In life and property/casualty insurance markets it is one of the least regulated states.

In the personal freedom dimension, Illinois has the sixth harshest gun control laws in the country, though these were improved by the McDonald v. Chicago decision striking down local gun bans. The state’s victimless crimes arrest rates are very high. In 2010, arrests for victimless crimes (excluding minors) made up over 1.5 percent of the state’s population; the vast majority of these were for drugs.1

However, that figure is actually an improvement on 2008. Illinois’s marijuana laws are more restrictive than Georgia’s, which is surprising for a left-leaning state. Its asset forfeiture laws are also among the worst in the nation. On the plus side, Illinois’s home school regulations were effectively as minimal as Idaho’s—a case of benign neglect, it seems. The state’s marriage freedom score will improve in the next version of the index since civil unions were legalized in 2011.

Policy Recommendations

  • Tighten the rules for new debt by state and local governments, and find ways to reduce future liabilities for employee retirement, where the state already spends more than any other state except Alaska, New York, and Ohio.
  • End partisan elections for the state supreme court in order to improve the court system.
  • Decriminalize marijuana, legalize medical marijuana, and repeal the Salvia ban.2
  • 1. Since a person can be arrested multiple times in a year, it is likely that less than 1.5 percent of Illinois’s population was arrested for victimless crimes in 2010. 2. Dramatically liberalizing gun control laws might make a bigger difference, but Illinois’s political culture is unlikely to tolerate such a
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