NM rivals Mississippi as state with most poverty

by Joey Peters, New Mexico Political Report
September 21, 2015

While New Mexico’s poverty rate is slowly dropping, its still high enough to rank the second poorest state in the nation.

And this year, the unthinkable nearly happened.

As Stateline recently wrote, “New Mexico is close to overtaking Mississippi as the state with the highest percentage of its population living in poverty.”

New Mexico’s poverty rate sits at 21.3 percent, just decimals behind Mississippi’s rate of 21.5 percent.

Both are the only states to break above a 20 percent poverty rate. Nationally, 14.8 percent of Americans are living in poverty.

These are all according 2014 numbers from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, affecting 46.7 million people.

The federal poverty rate for 2014 equals a household income of $23,850 for a family of four or less. For a single-person household, the rate would equal an $11,670 income.

New Mexico actually decreased its poverty level from 21.9 percent in 2013, the largest drop for any state this year. Mississippi, however, dropped multiple percentage points from 24 percent.

New Mexico did perform worse than Mississippi this time in one respect—childhood poverty. For 2014, nearly one-third of children were living in New Mexico lived in poverty, the highest in the nation, according to National KIDS COUNT. This was 30 percent. Mississippi came in second worst, at 29 percent.

Amber Wallin, KIDS COUNT director at New Mexico Voices for Children, said that even though New Mexico’s childhood poverty rate dropped slightly from 2013, it wasn’t enough of a change to be marked statistically significant.

Mississippi, on the other hand, dropped 5 percentage points from 34 percent the year before.

“Other states are improving while New Mexico is flat-lining,” Wallin said.

Less children are enrolled in child care in New Mexico than in 2010, and Wallin attributes that to cost spikes.

She said New Mexico is one of only a few states where child care costs more than college tuition on average. In those situations, families can’t afford to work, she said.

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