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Illinois is a state in the Midwestern area of the United States that borders the Mississippi River. Among all US states, it has the fifth greatest gross domestic product (GDP), sixth largest population, and the 25th largest geographical area, according to the United Nations Development Programme. A microcosm of the whole United States, Illinois has been referred to as "the Prairie State." As a result of the presence of Chicago in northeastern Illinois, minor industrial cities in the north and centre of the state, and natural resources such as coal, lumber, and petroleum in the south, the state of Illinois has a diversified economic base and serves as a significant transportation hub. There are two main routes through which the Port of Chicago connects the state to international ports: from the Great Lakes, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean; and from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, via the Illinois River, through the Illinois Waterway, to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River all run through Illinois, forming part of the state's borders. For decades, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has been rated as one of the world's busiest airports, according to the International Air Transport Association. Illinois has long had a reputation as a bellwether state, both in terms of social and cultural trends, as well as in politics, particularly during the 1980s.

By 1900, the expansion of industrial employment in northern cities and the expansion of coal mining in the central and southern regions had drawn a large number of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. During both World Wars, the state of Illinois was a significant industrial hub. A significant population of African Americans throughout the state, particularly Chicago, was created as a result of the Great Migration from the South. These people were responsible for the development of the city's renowned jazz and blues traditions. Chicago, the city at the heart of the Chicago Metropolitan Area, is now widely regarded as a worldwide financial hub. Chicagoland, the metropolitan region around Chicago, is home to about 65 percent of the state's population. Metropolitan regions with the highest population density outside of the Chicago area include Metro East (part of the Greater St. Louis region), Peoria, and Rockford.