Poverty-stricken kids missing from gov’s agenda

by Tom McDonald, Roswell Daily Record

Perhaps the harshest and most valid criticism of Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State speech wasn’t so much for what she said as what she didn’t say. She made no mention of child poverty in New Mexico.

It’s so relevant to this state’s future that it’s hard to fathom the omission — especially when it comes to law enforcement, one of the governor’s top priorities.

Plus, her timing couldn’t have been worse.

On Jan. 19, in the morning hours prior to the governor’s midday speech to launch this year’s legislative session, the nonprofit advocacy group Voices for Children held a news conference at the Roundhouse and released its latest Kids Count report. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, this data based survey has been coming out every year since 1990, providing relevant information about child welfare, especially in relation to “at-risk” children and youth across the nation.

With these latest findings, this so-called Land of Enchantment again looks anything but. Instead, it makes us look as if we’re not taking care of our children.

The latest New Mexico Kids Count report is 72 pages long and can be downloaded at nmvoices.org. I’ve gleaned some of its most pertinent points:

  • Nearly a third of New Mexico’s children live in poverty — the highest rate in the nation. And it’s even worse for the state’s minorities, with about 44 percent of Native American children and 34 percent of Hispanic children living in poverty. Plus, we’re ranked 49th in child well-being, behind only Mississippi.
  • What’s more, over a third of the state’s children live in families where no parent has a full-time and year-around job. Within these families, housing takes a disproportionately big bite out of household income, so health care, quality childcare and nutritious meals are harder to afford, leaving the children to go without.
  • Nine percent of New Mexico’s teens ages 16-19 are “disconnected,” meaning they don’t have a job or attend school. Fortunately, these numbers have been dropping, in part because of a law passed in 2014 that waives tuition at state colleges and universities for youth coming out of foster care.
  • Early childhood education, one of the best things we can do to give children a decent start in life, is nowhere close to where it should be in New Mexico. Only 41 percent of children ages 3-4 attend some sort of pre-school program, so they’re essentially behind from the beginning.
  • New Mexico is also behind in reading and math, though our reading proficiency has been improving since 2009, when funding for early reading programs began to increase. Math proficiency has also shown some gains over the years, as the state has invested in after-school and summer enrichment programs.
  • The state ranks 45th in its “on-time” graduation rate, as more than 25 percent of our students fail to graduate on time. Students who don’t graduate when they’re expected to are far more likely to drop out and never get their diploma; they’ll never attend college and will have a harder time with employment.
  • We also rank poorly, 43rd, in the percentage of low birth-weight babies (5.5 pounds or less), at 8.8 percent. That can cause developmental delays, disabilities, chronic conditions and early death — all stemming from the effects of poverty.
  • As for our state’s child and teen death rate — which stands at 28 deaths per 100,000 children ages 1-19 — New Mexico ranks 33rd. According to the report, however, “New Mexico’s youth suicide rate is almost two times that of the U.S., and is even higher among its Native American youth.” The death rate among Native American children and youth in New Mexico is 38 deaths per 100,000.

Child poverty is a systemic problem that will have a major and negative impact on the future of this state. But instead of noting it’s importance and calling for further action to address it, the governor presented more of a law-and-order agenda without even the mention of one of its root causes.

Apparently, she’d rather treat one of the symptoms.

Copyright 2016, Roswell Daily Record (http://rdrnews.com/wordpress/blog/2016/01/26/poverty-stricken-kids-missing-from-govs-agenda/)