2 million Illinoisans struggle to put food on their tables

2 million Illinoisans struggle to put food on their tables

Recent data from the Illinois Department of Human Services show nearly 2 million Illinois residents need government assistance to put food on the table this holiday season, as the state continues to hemorrhage manufacturing jobs and other blue-collar opportunities. Each year’s end is a time for reflection.

Regrettably, for millions of Illinoisans 2016 was marred by state policy failures that left them with little choice but to seek government assistance to get by.

An astounding 1.92 million Illinoisans are relying on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, – commonly known as food stamps – this holiday season, according to November 2016 data from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Illinois’ white-collar service sectors are experiencing sluggish growth, particularly in Chicago and its metro area. But on the whole, year after year, the state is losing thousands of blue-collar jobs that have traditionally provided stability for middle-class Illinoisans. Unfortunately, Illinois’ poor jobs climate drives millions to either turn to state programs for assistance, or follow the jobs out of state.

Compared with 1.99 million in November 2015, food stamp usage in Illinois dropped by 70,000 as of November 2016 – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. U.S. Census Bureau data show that Illinois lost 114,144 people to other states, on net, from July 2015 to July 2016. This caused Illinois’ population to shrink by 37,508 during that same period, constituting the third consecutive year of population decline. So the reduction in Illinois’ food stamps usage may be more attributable to the state’s smaller overall population than a smaller struggling population.

Furthermore, as of August 2016, Illinois’ food stamps usage far outpaced that of its neighbors, with the largest percentage of residents reliant on the government program.

Illinois policymakers need to implement commonsense reforms to improve the state’s job market, which will mean fewer Illinoisans worrying about their next meal. Illinois lawmakers should ring in the New Year by reforming the state’s tax code, which includes some of the highest property taxes in the nation, which are especially burdensome for manufacturing businesses; fixing its broken pension system to avoid continuous taxpayer bailouts; reforming its workers’ compensation system, which is among the top 10 most expensive nationally and the most expensive regionally; introducing Right-to-Work legislation; and reforming its occupational licensing schemes that restrict employment to the detriment of middle- and low-income workers. These reforms would make Illinois a more competitive state for entrepreneurial investment, laying the groundwork for stronger job creation.

As Illinois policymakers reflect on 2016, they need to acknowledge the policy failures that have left nearly 2 million Illinoisans reliant on food stamps. They need to set pro-growth goals for the New Year, and return to Springfield in January prepared to make 2017 a year of prosperity for the Land of Lincoln.

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