N.M. poverty rate down, but is still among worst in U.S.

by Bruce Krasnow, Santa Fe New Mexican
September 15, 2016

Income is up and poverty is down in New Mexico, new Census data show, but the state still lags behind the rest of the country in economic growth and remains one of just two states where more than 1 in 5 residents live in poverty.

“There is relatively little movement out of poverty,” said Jeffrey Mitchell, director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at The University of New Mexico. “The poverty rate declined, but less so than other places.”

The portion of New Mexicans living below the poverty line is 20.4 percent, down from 21.3 percent in 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau says. The child poverty rate in the state dropped to 28.6 percent from 29.5 percent, but New Mexico remains second worst behind Mississippi.

The household median income in the state increased by $579 last year, a boost of 1.2 percent, but again lags far behind the national average and ranks in the bottom three states.

Amber Wallin, a policy analyst with New Mexico Voices for Children, said the improvements indicate the state is seeing some ripples from the economic expansion nationally.

“In New Mexico, we’ve lagged behind the nation in economic recovery,” Wallin said. “We’re just starting to see some improvements.”

But she pointed out that low-wage jobs leave even some full-time workers in poverty. Wallin said the state is 50th in poverty among those who work full time year-round (5.1 percent) and 50th in poverty among people who have a bachelor’s degree or higher (6.6 percent).

One of the bigger improvements New Mexico has seen is a decrease in poverty among women, she said. This rate dropped nearly 2 percent between 2014 and 2015 and may be one benefit from the expansion of Medicaid, the government insurance program now available for low-income adults.

“Women are more likely to live in poverty and be low-income, more likely to meet the income requirements of Medicaid, more likely to be raising children and they are more likely to work in low-paying jobs that do not provide medical benefits,” said Wallin, who compiles the annual Kids Count data book for the public policy group.

Median household income in New Mexico rose by 1.3 percent in 2015 to $45,382.

Average income growth nationwide was 3.8 percent. The only two states that saw slower income growth than New Mexico were New Jersey and Idaho.

UNM’s Mitchell said other states have seen a particular increase in jobs paying over $50,000 a year.

“Other states have been successful over the last four or five years in creating some higher-paying jobs,” he said. “New Mexico has been less successful, so we see less upward movement.”

One area where New Mexico is improving faster than the rest of the United States is in expanding health insurance. From 2014 to 2015, some 74,000 state residents gained coverage and the uninsured rate dropped to 10.9 percent from 14.5 percent. Only California saw a bigger improvement in health coverage.

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