Michael Lucci Dec. 4, 2014, 8:05am

New data released by the Illinois Department of Human Services show a record number of Illinois households were dependent upon food stamps this Thanksgiving. More than 7,700 Illinois households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, in October, bringing the total count to 1,052,548 Illinois households.

That puts a stunning 22 percent of all Illinois households on the food-stamp rolls, an all-time high for the Land of Lincoln. More and more households becoming dependent on food stamps reveals the true impact of Illinois’ sputtering economy.

The total number of Illinoisans on food stamps grew by 9,800 in October; reaching a new 2014 high of 2,043,607, the fifth-highest count ever in Illinois.

With 15.9 percent of all residents enrolled in the food-stamp program, Illinois has the second-highest percentage of residents on food stamps in the entire Midwest; better only than Michigan, where 16.6 percent of residents are on food stamps. However, Michigan food-stamp enrollment has declined by 110,000 in the last year, while Illinois food-stamp enrollment has increased by 16,000.

Meanwhile, Illinois lost 2,000 payroll jobs in October. And through the first 10 months of the year, Illinois has the worst job-creation rate in the Midwest.

Since January 2010, when Illinois began creating jobs again, food-stamp enrollment has outpaced job creation by more than 3-to-2 in the Prairie State. That makes Illinois the only state in the Midwest where food-stamp enrollment has outpaced job creation during the recession recovery.

Of Illinois’ 10 most populous counties, Kankakee and Winnebago have the highest percentage of households on food stamps, at 31.9 percent and 31.5 percent, respectively. The counties that are home to Kankakee, Rockford, Danville, Chicago, Decatur, Peoria, Belleville and Ottawa are all above the state average for percentage of households on food stamps.

These numbers are a stunning glimpse at the results of Illinois’ failure to foster entrepreneurs, businesses and overall economic growth.

There were many issues hotly contested in the gubernatorial election, but one thing is clear: Governor-elect Rauner has a moral mandate to kick-start the Illinois economy and get job creation going again. The most tremendous failure of politicians in Springfield and in Chicago is that they’ve made Illinois a place where businesses don’t want to grow, and from which entrepreneurs flee. The human toll is felt by those who are left behind.

Illinois needs economic reform that starts with entrepreneurs, including lower fees, alternatives to burdensome occupational licensing and the opportunity to crowdfund new businesses. Established and expanded businesses need workers’ compensation reform. Industrial areas, such as Kankakee, Rockford, Decatur and Peoria should be allowed to experiment with right-to-work zones to attract manufacturers and growth. Finally, Illinois should transition away from income taxation so that workers and investors are no longer punished for their success.

Illinois families need these reforms now. Far too many must depend upon government for their next holiday meal.

Michael Lucci is Director of Jobs and Growth for the Illinois Policy Institute. 

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