America’s food stamp epidemic continues unabated, as entitlement addiction and employment ambition move in opposite directions.

The newest numbers (as of June 2012) tell us that 46.67 million people now share food stamp dependency, or 3.3 percent more than in June 2011. The new figure accounts for more than 20 percent of the nation’s households.

Not surprisingly, the most populated states, California and Texas, have the highest number of residents on food stamps.

It is also no surprise that free-spending, job-shedding entitlement havens dominate the top 10, which is where we find Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois. (The state is ranked 48th in economic outlook as well as economic performance, according to the Illinois Policy Institute).

Illinois ranks sixth in food stamp participation, with 1,874,051 people on the rolls as of June 2012.

It also makes the top 10 by having 14.5 percent of its population relying on food stamps, the eighth highest.

These numbers are disturbing but to be expected. As of 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, Illinois was tied for 24th nationally with 19 percent of its population living below the Federal Poverty Level ($22,050 annual income, family of four). One in five people, in other words, are living on the edge.

But the spike in food stamp assistance (provided to the states through the U.S. Department of Agriculture) cannot be fully examined, or explained, by statistics alone. Where there is economic growth spurred by leadership and policy that promotes free-market expansion, there is more often than not less reliance on a government lifeline.

As an example, look at the state of North Dakota, which has been supercharged by the natural gas boom in the western U.S. It’s economy is flourishing because energy exploration is creating jobs and fueling prosperity. In the 12 months ending June 2012, the number of individuals in the state using food stamps fell by 3.7 percent.

Michigan (-6.1 percent), Wyoming (-4.8 percent), Utah (-2.9 percent) and Texas (-1.9 percent) have seen declines in food stamp applicants, too.

Where there are fewer barriers to business growth and self-reliance, expect to find people getting back on their feet. Where there are looming threats of higher taxes and leadership preaching government reliance, that’s where you’ll likely find more folks with their feet up.

Citing the USDA’s own report released last spring, the chief market strategist for BNY ConvergEx Group, Nicholas Colas, concludes that ever enlarging food stamp rolls primarily results from the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) having become “wildly successful.”

“That is not a slam against people that use it,” Colas writes. “But it’s not hard to see where this program is creeping its way from counter-cyclical stimulus and support to a lasting entitlement program that will be very hard to change.”

Colas notes that the USDA knows – again, according to its own internal reporting – that less than half of SNAP benefits received by households go toward buying food. The monthly funds tend to become lumped into a household’s total disposable income.

Conclusions as to where a food stamp mentality takes us as a nation are chilling. They provide a fresh reminder that citizens in states like Illinois, awash in foreboding data, need to demand political backbone, reform boldness and devotion to restoring economic vitality in future leadership.

“Have we reached a point where Americans want a clear and potentially permanent social safety net?” Colas writes. “And how far should it go? …  What if it is an emblem of something greater?  In many ways I think this is a big chunk of what the November election will be about, and at least the food stamp program seems to show that Americans have made up their minds.”

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