In March of this year, Illinois passed Michigan to become the Midwest state with the highest percentage of its population enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. Nearly 1 in 6 Illinoisans is on food stamps, a far higher rate than most other states in the region.
Although Illinois and Michigan look similar on the rankings, their current trajectories could not be more different. Michigan took a harder hit during the Great Recession, but then passed major economic reforms that have helped the Wolverine State bounce back. Since the recession bottom in January 2010, Michigan’s recovery has resulted in 170,000 people dropping off the food-stamp rolls. In Illinois, food-stamp enrollment has risen by 435,000 over the same time period, signifying the lack of economic growth and job opportunities in the Land of Lincoln. Government dependence has been the result of poor public policy.
The economic recovery in Illinois, what little there is, has been uneven across industries and across the state. For example, the divergence between jobs in areas such as business services compared with manufacturing has left more jobs for white-collar workers and fewer for blue-collar workers.
Areas of Illinois that are driven by backbone industries such as manufacturing are being hollowed out, and that reality is showing up in the form of government dependence. Looking at the percentage of households on food stamps gives a good approximation of what is happening to Illinois families – over 22 percent of households are on food stamps. Cook County has a heavy level of dependence, with 28 percent of households currently using food stamps. Macon (home of Decatur) and Kankakee counties have 28.4 and 25 percent of households on food stamps, respectively. Winnebago (Rockford) and Vermilion (Danville) counties are both over 28 percent.
As manufacturers pile out of the state, Springfield politicians continue whistling past the graveyard, ignoring the reality that is closing in around them. Just since July 6, four manufacturers have announced they will shut down and leave Illinois, putting thousands more families at risk of falling into government dependence. If the Illinois General Assembly ignores the need for real reform and instead only passes a tax hike, they will have once again ignored the needs of an entire generation of blue-collar workers across the state.
Michael Lucci is Director of Jobs and Growth for the Illinois Policy Institute.