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Illinois at the end of the 20th century


Illinois waterway
Illinois waterway

From 1950 to 1980 the population continued to grow, but at a declining rate. During the 1950s the farming counties of the far south noticeably lost population; some areas lost 20 to 30 percent of their inhabitants. Chicago also lost some of its population, but the number of its suburban inhabitants nearly doubled. The population loss in Chicago accelerated in the 1960s and again in the 1970s. Metropolitan population growth continued in the 1960s but ended in the 1970s when people moved to Southern and Western states.

The population losses were linked to an economic decline in the state that began in the 1960s and worsened in the 1970s. The state’s industries, based largely on old, inefficient plants and faced with rising energy and labor costs, were less able to compete with either foreign producers or new producers in the Southern and Southwestern states.

Illinois coal producers, for example, employed just over 10,000 people in 1990 but only about 5,700 in 1995, after federal clean-air legislation placed high-sulfur Illinois coal at a competitive disadvantage to low-sulfur coal from Western states. To halt the industrial decline in Illinois, the state offered economic incentives to domestic and foreign manufacturers to remain in or relocate to Illinois. In 1981 the state loaned $20 million to the Chrysler Corporation, and several years later persuaded the Mitsubishi Corporation to build a Diamond Star Motor plant in Normal, near Bloomington. A high-tech corridor was created along Interstate 88 southwest of Chicago to encourage the development of new computer and electronic technology. By the 1990s the Illinois economy had substantially recovered; the unemployment rate in early 1996 of just over 5 percent was the lowest rate since 1974.

Politics in postwar Illinois continued to be marked by a division between Democratic Chicago and Republican downstate Illinois. Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who served as Illinois governor from 1949 to 1953, became a spokesman for liberal Democrats who supported more government action on behalf of individual needs, and he was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. Each time he lost both the nationwide election and the votes of Illinois. Republicans continued to carry Illinois in most presidential elections, though in 1960 and 1964 Illinois supported the Democratic candidates.

In Chicago a Democratic Party political machine, which used political rewards to ensure votes, wielded considerable power under Mayor Richard J. Daley despite the declining urban population. After Daley’s death in 1976, however, dissension erupted in the party.

In 1979 Jane Byrne won the Democratic primary and the general election, but she lost the Democratic primary in 1983 to U.S. Congressman Harold Washington, who went on to become Chicago’s first black mayor. Washington was reelected in 1987, but after he died later that year the city council chose Eugene Sawyer, a relatively unpopular alderman, to be acting mayor. He was then defeated in a special election for mayor in 1989 by Richard M. Daley, son of Richard J. Daley.

The Illinois delegation to the U.S. Congress has lost strength due to the loss of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the retirement, resignation, and election upsets of many senior legislators. Influential Democratic senator Alan Dixon lost in a primary bid in 1992 to Carol Moseley-Braun, who became the first black woman elected to the United States Senate. Representative Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, pled guilty to two counts of mail fraud after losing his 1994 reelection bid. Robert Michel, Republican minority leader from 1981 to 1994, retired just before the Republican Party gained control of Congress later that year. Finally, Democratic senator Paul Simon announced he would not seek reelection in 1996.

In 1995 U.S. representative Mel Reynolds was charged with having sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker and resigned. He was convicted of sexual misconduct and obstruction of justice and began serving a five-year prison term later that year. Several Illinois governors also have served time in prison. Democrat Otto Kerner was convicted in 1973 of accepting bribes while in office. Democrat Daniel Walker was found guilty of bank fraud and perjury in 1987, ten years after leaving office. Numerous corruption charges ended the political career of Republican governor George Ryan, who went to prison in 2007.

Ryan’s successor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who ran as a reform candidate, was arrested on corruption charges in December 2008. The allegations against him included attempts to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. After refusing to step down, Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois legislature and removed from office in January 2009. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Patrick J. Quinn. During and after his impeachment trial Blagojevich appeared on television talk shows to proclaim his innocence. "Illinois" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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