Study: Poverty still grips state

Officials say this is nothing new

by Eamon Scarbrough, Quay County Sun
June 21, 2017

A national study of family and child well-being has found that New Mexico ranks second to last behind Mississippi, and Curry and Roosevelt County are not faring much better than the average.

Local health-care and poverty experts say this is nothing new, and the high amount of poverty in the state has been on the increase for several years.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 Kids Count Data Book, which used data from 2015, showed 28.6 percent of children ages 0-17 (141,053) living in poverty statewide.

In Curry County, the statistic was 29.3 percent (3,926), and in Roosevelt County 26.6 percent (1,218).

La Casa Family Health Center CEO Seferino Montano, whose company provides health care for uninsured and low-income patients, said he has seen a continuous increase in enrollment in Medicaid for children at poverty level since 2015.

Montano was hard-pressed to find just one cause of the increase in children living at poverty level.

“New Mexico ranks low in most everything. It has the most children in poverty, it has the highest unemployment rate, etc. I think that when you look at all of these things that affect the daily lives of people in New Mexico, they contribute to all of these unfavorable statistics as compared to the rest of the nation,” he said.

Becoming more prevalent also, according to Montano, are children attending La Casa’s summer lunch program, which provides free daily meals in Clovis and Portales.

“That’s been increasing over the years also, simply because people don’t have the means of buying food for their kids. It’s worsening instead of getting better,” he said.

While Montano would like to say there will come a day when La Casa will not have to increase its services for low-income patients, he is doubtful that day will arrive.

“I’ve been with the clinic since 1976, and I haven’t seen any changes that would lead me to believe that that day will ever come,” he said. “I think that as long as we don’t create jobs for our community and better educate our kids, then we will continue to be in the same boat that we’re in, unfortunately.”

The survey also found that neither parent in 11.4 percent (22,659) of New Mexico families were employed in 2015. It showed 14.2 percent (888) of Curry County families and 8.5 percent (187) of Roosevelt County families had unemployed parents.

Portales’ Dolores Penrod was the director of the Portales Community Services Center from 1965-1999, and in that time familiarized herself with area demographics. Since then, she said, children have quickly become the poorest group of people in the nation.

“Now that we have Social Security for the elderly, the elderly are no longer the poorest people in the country. It’s little children, and of course a lot of the poverty that we have for little children has to do with single mothers,” she said.

Penrod attributed the high poverty rates to income disparity.

“We have a lot of people earning a very low average weekly wage. It’s essentially that we don’t have many people with middle-class incomes. If you include college faculty and other incomes, there’s quite a gap between those salaries when you get down to it,” she said.

Underemployment, too, keeps people below the poverty line, Penrod said.

“Most people are underemployed, just working part-time jobs, and frequently patching together several part-time jobs in order to make ends meet,” she said.

Through it all, however, the people of eastern New Mexico manage to scrape by, she said.

“On what their meager income is, they manage to survive. Also, that explains why, even though we’re quite poor, we don’t have homeless people. It’s because we have people who take people in. You have to understand the culture and demographics,” she said.

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