Poverty update: Good news for the U.S., bad news for New Mexico

The recent Census data releases on poverty delivered some reasonably good news for the nation, but bad news for New Mexico. The Census gives us an annual look at how families are faring across the nation. While the rest of the nation is recovering—albeit very slowly—from the recession, New Mexico is still stuck in economic limbo, and a lot of our families are still struggling. This is important because in order for New Mexico’s economy to thrive, its people have to have the opportunities to do so as well; and New Mexico’s economy can’t get better when so many of its families are barely getting by.  But it doesn’t have to be this way—there are common sense solutions that can address poverty and help make families and the economy stronger. Before looking at some of the solutions though, let’s take a quick look at what the Census data shows.

While poverty rates fell very slightly nationwide, New Mexico’s poverty rate actually increased during that same time. This makes New Mexico one of only three states to see poverty go up, means 22,000 more New Mexicans are in poverty, and ranks our state next to worst in the nation for overall poverty.

Census data also showed that the U.S. poverty rate among Hispanics fell, while at the same time, New Mexico’s Hispanic poverty rate grew. This means 15,000 more Hispanics dropped below the poverty line in 2013.

The data told the same story about kids living in poverty. Nationwide, the percent of kids in poverty improved, while in New Mexico, the already terrible rate of child poverty got worse. Only one other state has a worse childhood poverty rate.

Like the rest of the nation, median income in New Mexico remained relatively flat with both the state and the nation seeing less than $500 in median income growth. While these tiny increases represent (very small) steps in the right direction, median incomes are still 8 percent below what they were before the recession.

The slight improvements in nationwide statistics reflect wage gains for low-income earners (minimum wages increased in 10 states during the reporting period) and improved job markets in most areas. In other words, fewer people are in poverty because workers on the edge of poverty are making more money and because most areas have more jobs to offer. It is not surprising then that while the rest of the nation creeps forward towards economic recovery, New Mexico continues to lag behind. The state hasn’t increased its minimum wage since 2009 and has lost more than 45,000 jobs since the recession hit. And despite a bevy of big corporate tax cuts (paid for by regular New Mexicans) that slashed taxes for big businesses, new jobs just aren’t materializing.

To compound our inability to recover from the recession, New Mexico has one of the highest rates of income inequality. Only five other states and the District of Columbia are worse. According to the Census, income inequality nationwide increased in 2013 and is at near-record levels. This is problematic because economic recoveries happen more quickly when the rises in income and employment are more broadly shared and spread across all income levels. However, in contrast with historical economic recoveries, the recovery of the last recession has taken longer to reach low- and middle-income earners. As the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest gets bigger, income gains—including recession recovery gains—are going very disproportionately to the richest.

Things are bad, and they are obviously not getting better. It is time for action, and policy makers in our state have no excuses for not pursuing some obvious and already-proven solutions. Other states are increasing their minimum wages—it is time for New Mexico to do the same.  As shown in a recent report by NM Voices, increasing the minimum wage by one dollar, to just $8.50 per hour, would benefit 540,000 New Mexicans and generate approximately $50 million in wages for the lowest wage earners.  Because minimum wage workers tend to spend much of their money quickly and locally, this money would go right back into local economies.

The same goes for tax benefits for low- and middle-income New Mexicans. Policy makers should consider bolstering these tax policies—like the Working Families Tax Credit (our state’s version of the Earned Income Tax Credit) and the Low Income Comprehensive Tax Rebate—that combat inequality and help poor families meet their most basic needs. In fact, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a particularly effective way states can help working families move and stay out of poverty is to increase their minimum wage while at the same time strengthening their EITC.

As far as long-term solutions go, we know that investments in early childhood have big payouts for kids, parents, communities, and state economies. We know that kids in poverty show worse health and educational outcomes and that these outcomes have negative, lasting effects on kids and their communities. We’ve heard policy makers, advocates, and others say again and again how important the early years are. And we have many evidence-based and proven policy solutions already in place—including home visiting, pre-kindergarten, high-quality child care, and child care assistance—that can bolster outcomes for the kids and families who receive them, and improve the quality of life for all. It is time to fully fund early childhood care and education.

As recent Census data have shown, New Mexico is in the throes of a crisis. Our whole state is suffering from a stagnant economy. There has never been a greater need for investments in New Mexico’s greatest resource—our people!

Amber Wallin, MPA, is a Research and Policy Analyst for NM Voices for Children.

 

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“Mom, how can people be poor if they are working?”

My 6-year-old daughter recently asked me a very astute question: how it was possible that people who are working can still be poor? That’s a good question! The answer can be complicated. For example, since it’s not adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage has lost about 10 percent of its purchasing power since it was last raised in 2009. Also, having an education pays off now more than ever in this 21st century economy. Adults with college degrees or industry-recognized certificates usually earn family-sustaining wages, which means they make greater contributions to our economy. 

Unfortunately in New Mexico, almost 70 percent of all working-age adults (ages 18-64) do not have a college degree or industry certificate. These 890,000 adults have few options when it comes to finding decent-paying jobs that can meet their families’ basic needs. It’s not surprising then that almost 43 percent of New Mexico’s working families are low-income. The state ranks 49th in that indicator—only Mississippi fares worst. These families are working hard but they can’t make ends meet with their low-wage jobs.

What’s bad for working families is bad for their children and the state’s economy. Almost half of New Mexico children live in working families that are low income. Our state ranks 49th in that indicator as well. And when children grow up in poverty or low-income households, they are much less likely to succeed in school, graduate from high school, and become contributing members of society.

graphic

With its poorly educated and trained workforce, New Mexico has a hard time attracting new businesses and high-wage jobs to the state. This stymies our economy and continues the cycle of New Mexicans stuck in low-wage jobs. The quality of our workforce can be changed, though, by investing in career pathways programs that have helped large numbers of low-skilled and low-income adults in other states gain industry-recognized certificates and degrees in high-growth sectors.

Career pathways programs help non-traditional adult students effectively transition into college and earn high-demand credentials. Career pathways work by weaving together and aligning adult basic education programs (focused on improving literacy, math, and English proficiency skills), workforce training programs (focused on building occupational skills), and college courses (with accompanying case management and mentoring), while offering comprehensive student support services (including need-based financial aid, child care assistance, and transportation vouchers) to promote college access and success.

New Mexico has a very small career pathways program called I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training), which has been successfully implemented and scaled up in twenty states across the nation and is showing very promising completion and certificate attainment rates here in New Mexico. New Mexico has an estimated 400,000 adults who need to improve their basic skills, earn high school equivalency certificates, and gain workforce skills and credentials. Our current adult education programs, however, only serve a tiny portion—less than 20,000. And of those, only a small number—a few hundred—can enroll in I-BEST.

graphic

We know what works and how beneficial a career pathways program can be for adults looking to improve their employability and economic security. To help our struggling economy, New Mexico must ramp up the I-BEST program, fully integrate it into our adult education system, and provide much-needed student support services. We also need to make sure that stronger partnerships are forged between adult education providers, community colleges, workforce development boards, state agencies, and employers to maximize student outcomes and positive returns on investments.

Investing in career pathways programs like I-BEST is a win-win for New Mexico: reliance on social services would be reduced; we would be more likely to lure businesses here that need a well-educated workforce; the state’s economy would grow; and the economic security of these families improve, which would, in turn improve the academic and well-being outcomes of their children.

The federal government, adult education state agencies and community colleges, workforce stakeholders and employers, and family security advocates from across the nation are all on board for career pathways. It’s time for the state of New Mexico to get on board too.

Read more about this issue in our report, Strengthening New Mexico’s Workforce and Economy by Developing Career Pathways.

Armelle Casau is a Research and Policy Analyst with NM Voices for Children. Reach her at acasau@nmvoices.org.

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NM might consider social impact bonds for expanding early childhood services

Dr. Arthur Rolnick—the keynote speaker at our 2014 NM KIDS COUNT Conference—made a compelling case for higher levels of investment in early childhood care and learning services. Many people in New Mexico agree that these kind of investments will help us improve the well-being of our children. Unfortunately, there has not been a consensus in Santa Fe on how to pay for these programs.

Other states and countries are using a new financing tool—social impact bonds—to pay for preventive high quality early childhood programs like home visitation, childcare and early learning, and pre-K, which have a clear pay-off. The term “social impact bonds” is really a misnomer in that the government does not issue bonds to pay for the programs. Social impact bond financing programs are also referred to as “results-based financing” and “pay-for-success” programs. As these names imply, they are based on the premise that pay is made only when results have been delivered.

So what is results-based financing? Under results-based financing programs, private investors or philanthropists, sometimes jointly, pay for programs that will save taxpayer dollars in the future. In essence, they pay for prevention rather than remediation. Here’s how it works: in the case of early childhood education, non-public dollars are used to pay for high-quality, multi-year programs that are expected to reduce (not necessarily eliminate) the need for expensive special education services and other remediation programs. The investors—private and philanthropic—are then repaid with government dollars, with interest, as the programs demonstrate success in obviating the need for other already-funded programs. Clearly, a critical element of this funding structure is agreement between all parties upon what constitutes success and how that success is measured.

An exciting potential of such financing tools is that they increase the pool of funding for critically needed preventive programs using non-governmental sources. In the U.S., use of this new financing tool has been relatively small in scope and not mature enough to demonstrate whether or not it will be successful. A downside of this financing tool is that the money provided by the private or nonprofit funders must be re-paid with an agreed-upon profit—to cover principal risk and fees—built into the payments, which means that the programs may end up costing more than if they were funded directly by the government. If properly structured, investors are only repaid if the savings are realized, which requires a high level of diligence on the part of government officials.

If such programs prove to be highly successful they may be worth the extra cost. Dr. Rolnick indicated that the return on high-quality early childhood care and learning services has been shown to be 16 percent or higher. It may be worth diverting some of this return to expand these programs with social impact bonds if there seems to be no other way to pay for them. We also need to ensure that we will not end up taking money from other already under-funded programs to re-pay the private investors.

To learn more about social impact bonds go to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab at www.hks-siblab.org.

James Jimenez is Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy Integration at NM Voices for Children. Reach him at jjimenez@nmvoices.org.

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Most SNAP recipients would work for food – if they could find a job

The proposal by Governor Martinez’s Human Services Department (HSD) to reinstate work requirements on recipients of food benefits is ill-considered and reflects an upside-down set of values, particularly in the face of an ongoing weak economy that is not producing jobs.

The HSD plan to limit SNAP benefits unless the unemployed comply with job search and work requirements could cause families with children to lose benefits for up to a year. Childless adults who fail to complete 20 hours of work a week could lose SNAP for up to three years.

New Mexico has had and continues to be eligible for a federal waiver of SNAP time limits for jobless adults due to our high unemployment. That HSD wants to reject that waiver and federally funded food assistance for tens of thousands of jobless New Mexicans is absurd. What is the rationale for such proposal? It won’t save the state any money, as SNAP is a federally funded program. The whole point of SNAP is to help people feed their families in times of high unemployment. Denying food assistance to people when they are unemployed because they can’t find a job is like telling the passengers on the Titanic it’s their own fault there are not enough lifeboats. In what world do these public servants live?

In the real world, one in five New Mexico adults and one in three kids is already unsure where their next meal is coming from. That’s the worst rate of food insecurity in the nation. While some people in the administration don’t like to admit it, hunger is a serious problem in New Mexico with major consequences. Hungry kids have worse health outcomes, perform worse in school, and are less prepared to enter the workforce. Cutting SNAP benefits for struggling New Mexicans will mean families can’t put enough food on the table, and New Mexico kids should not be made to go hungry because their parents aren’t able to find jobs.

This proposal comes on the heels of a 2013 corporate income tax cut that will cost state services more than $70 million by 2017. What sort of accountability did we insist upon for this windfall? Absolutely nothing! Has this tax break changed the economic landscape for New Mexico? The employment data certainly has yet to indicate that is has. In fact, the latest jobs numbers show that work is getting harder and harder to find in New Mexico. Unemployment is up across the state, we’ve seen no real job growth, and still haven’t fully recovered from the recession. There could not a worse time to punish those who already cannot find a job by putting a work requirement on SNAP.

So just to review: we’re the worst-performing state in the region for jobs, the worst hunger, and are at the bottom of the list on poverty and child well-being, yet we are willing to give away $70 million in state dollars to big business with no accountability while also cutting off federally funded basic food assistance from people struggling to find work. What does this say about our values as reflected by our public policies? It says to us that our values are up-side down!

This blog was co-authored by Amber Wallin, a Research and Policy Analyst with NM Voices for Children. Reach her at awallin@nmvoices.org.

James Jimenez, Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy Integration can be reached at jjimenez@nmvoices.org.

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This is OBSCENE!


A recent report from the State Investment Council shows that New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) is growing at a robust pace and now exceeds $13.8 billion. It’s the second largest fund of its kind in the nation and we spend a small portion of it every year on education and other important services.

Meanwhile, New Mexico remains the worst state in which to raise a child. Only a small fraction of our youngest children have access to the high-quality early childhood care and learning services that are shown to improve their outcomes all the way into adulthood.

That we have the resources—through our multi-billion-dollar permanent fund—to turn things around for our kids and the state but we won’t use them is obscene.

Even with record-breaking returns from the stock market and projections of long-term windfalls from oil and natural gas production, all the evidence suggests that our own children would be a better investment for the state. The payoff would be a stronger state economy and better quality of life for all. High-quality child development services have been proven to yield between a 10 and 16 percent return. This return accrues not just to the child, in the form of better outcomes, but to everyone. These services save money on special education and other remediation programs, cut down on costs associated with juvenile justice, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and much more. They ensure that more kids go to—and finish—college. They prepare children for future success, and since today’s kids are tomorrow’s workforce, we would all benefit from their success. New Mexico would finally have what it takes to draw high-wage jobs to our state—an exceptional workforce and people with plenty of money to buy goods and services.

New Mexico has some very effective home visiting, child care, and pre-K programs, but they reach just a fraction of the children who could most benefit. The Legislature has increased funding over the last few years, but at this pace a full roll-out will take decades. By then it will be too late for most of today’s kids. Still, our lawmakers have refused to allow the people to vote on whether to invest just 1 percent of our nearly $14 billion permanent fund on improving child well-being. If the initial 2011 proposal to invest 1.5 percent of the LGPF had passed and the voters had approved it in 2012, the LGPF balance would have grown to about $13.4 billion instead of $13.8 billion. But we would have invested in tens of thousands of our most vulnerable young kids. We’d be putting them—and the whole state—on a course for success. We invested it in Wall Street instead.

Anyone who cares about improving outcomes for our children must find that offensive to their sense of morality or decency.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at bjordan@nmvoices.org.

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How New Mexico has failed its unemployed workers and its economy

Unemployment insurance (UI) has both a moral and an economic dimension—and New Mexico’s UI system has failed on both fronts. From a moral point of view, the intent of unemployment insurance is to keep people who are unemployed through no fault of their own from falling into financial ruin when they lose a job. The economic rationale for the program is that UI, along with SNAP (food stamps), is one of the so-called “automatic stabilizers” that keep the demand side of the economy from collapsing when the nation falls into a recession.

The moral rationale for the UI program is strong: people who lose their jobs or who are laid off in the course of a recession are victims of the workings of the business cycle. In New Mexico the unemployment rate peaked at 8 percent in 2010, and has yet to return to pre-recession levels. During the early course of the recession the UI program was performing its dual functions well. The moral aspect: unemployed people who were looking for work and who were out of a job through no fault of their own were being helped by the UI program. From an economic perspective, the UI program was helping to restore the health of the economy by shoring up demand for the goods and services provided by the state’s businesses and preventing the state’s economy from falling into a downward spiral fueled by falling wages and falling consumption.

In 2009, for example, on average 72 percent of the unemployed received payments under the state and federal UI programs. Of that 72 percent (called the ‘recipiency ratio’) 46 percent were covered by the New Mexico UI program and 36 percent were covered by emergency federal programs. The picture began to deteriorate in 2010, though, as just 66 percent of the unemployed were receiving UI payments, with 34 percent of the unemployed covered by the state program and 32 percent covered by the federal add-ons. The situation continued to worsen slightly in 2011, with an overall recipiency ratio of 63 percent, with 32 percent covered by the state and 31 percent by the federal program.

In 2012 the recipiency rate had fallen to 55 percent with a 32/23 percent state/federal split. At the national level, the hostility of the conservative majority in the U.S. House of Representatives toward the unemployed was beginning to prevail. Nationally and in the state, this shifting political balance was leading to the declining availability of UI, even though the labor market had clearly not recovered. In 2013 only 36 percent of the unemployed were receiving UI, with 26 receiving UI under the state and only 10 percent under the federal program. With the expiration of all emergency federal programs, only 25 percent of the unemployed were receiving UI by the first quarter of 2014—despite the fact that the New Mexico economy was still shedding jobs.

The severity of the recession had nearly drained the New Mexico UI Trust Fund, the fund from which UI benefits are paid. It fell from almost $600 million before the recession to below $50 million in 2014. The Legislature should have replenished the fund by substantially raising employer taxes, but that is not the approach that the state took. Prior to 2011, UI recipients with dependents could receive an extra allowance of $25 per week, per dependent for up to four dependents. In 2011, the Legislature cut the number of dependent allowances from four to two, dealing a blow to many families. UI benefits for students were also restricted. The Legislature did approve an employer tax increase, but it was vetoed by the Governor. In 2012 a small UI tax increase was approved and signed by the Governor.

By April 2014, the unemployment rate in New Mexico was 6.9 percent. That’s the 15th highest among the states, and is still above the national rate of 6.3 percent. New Mexico has had the lowest rate of job growth of any state, at negative 0.5 percent, having lost 4,400 jobs from April 2013 to April 2014. New Mexico’s low UI recipiency rate shows that New Mexico has been failing its unemployed workers. The failure is both moral and economic. It is unconscionable for the state to leave its unemployed workers to spend all of their savings and then end up destitute. The failure is also economic, as UI cannot fulfill its function of ‘automatic stabilizer’ to maintain demand for the goods and services of the state’s businesses.

Gerry Bradley is Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at gbradley@nmvoices.org.

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We’re 49th! A stroke of luck or the result of positive change?

The 2014 national KIDS COUNT ranking of states in child well-being just came out. There was a lot of uproar last year when, for the first time ever, New Mexico was ranked dead last—a position that had always been reserved for Mississippi. This year, Mississippi is back in 50th and we are ranked 49th. That’s good news, surely, but we have to ask ourselves … is it just a statistical fluke? Or, could our state possibly be starting to make progress in improving children’s lives? And, if this is so, can we sustain this movement?

On the plus side, with regard to policy, this year the Legislature appropriated approximately $175 million in new funding to support such programs as early childhood development services—the evidence-based NM Pre-K and home visiting programs, child care assistance, and the Family, Infant, Toddler (FIT) program—along with school-based health centers, K-12 education, programs aimed at mentoring youth and preventing dropout, and for additional child protective and foster care services. All of these programs give children a good start in life and ways to remain healthy, safe, in school, and moving forward. Since 2013, New Mexico has seen our child poverty rate drop somewhat, as well as the percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment, the teen birth rate, and the percentage of children living in families where the head of the household lacks a high school diploma.

On the other hand, like the proverbial Jack and Jill, New Mexico has tumbled down the hill of child well-being in certain areas. Since last year, more of our teens, ages 16-19, are not in school and not working. This is a major concern, as this age group is moving into adulthood, trying to find employment, starting families, or going on to college—and more of them don’t seem to be off to a good start, especially among our Hispanic, American Indian and Black youth, who make up the majority of our youth. More of our children than ever live in single-parent families, which tend to have lower household incomes and assets to provide for even their basic needs.

The effort and willpower it will take to improve our children’s health, economic status, education levels, and community environments will require a long-term, concerted, bipartisan commitment. Though we’ve perhaps taken a tiny step upward since 2013, some longer-term trends in our data indicate crucial areas we need to address soon if we’re to maintain positive momentum. For one, although fourth grade reading proficiency has improved in almost every state since 1992, it has not improved in New Mexico. In 1992, only 23 percent of our fourth graders could read proficiently; in 2013, unhappily, even fewer—21 percent—read proficiently. Given that this indicator of reading capacity is linked so strongly to children’s progress in school, graduation rates, college enrollment, and even career potential, New Mexico must address this problem as soon as possible. One factor related to this, which can be improved through policy change, is the fact that, over time, since 2005 to 2012, the percentage of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool, a cornerstone to helping prepare children for school, has remained very low (37 to 38 percent). We need to provide more of our preschoolers with access to high quality early childhood development and learning.

So, let’s return to the question at the start of this blog. All of us—policymakers, advocates, parents, employers, service providers, and others—must continue to play our parts, in collaboration and in sync with others—to bring about lasting improvement in child well-being in New Mexico. Let’s not continue to just play “ranking leapfrog” with Mississippi. Rather, let’s bring about significant, lasting change. Let’s persist in urging our policymakers to invest more state monies in our children, where we will all get the most “bang for our buck” in terms of shared prosperity in the future. Let’s evaluate our efforts to ensure we fund what works and discontinue policies that don’t. Let’s set our sights higher and continue to move upward.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2014 national KIDS COUNT Data Book is available at: http://www.aecf.org/resources/the-2014-kids-count-data-book/

The fact sheet for New Mexico is available at: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/US-NM-Kids-Count-profiles-2014.pdf

Our updated NM KIDS are COUNTing on Us policy agenda is available here: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/KIDS-COUNTing-policy-agenda-June-2014-update-web.pdf

Chris Hollis is the KIDS COUNT Program Director for NM Voices for Children. Reach her at chollis@nmvoices.org.

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Let’s have a debate about the real deficit

Bloggers and politicos are trading barbs over the truthfulness of the Governor’s repeated claim that she closed the largest budget deficit in the history of the state. (Of course, by constitutional mandate the state cannot run a deficit, so there never was a deficit to close.) We can spend the summer debating the definition of a deficit or we can (and I believe we should) have the more important debate about how we want that budget to look in the future.

There is no doubt that the recession was hard on New Mexico’s budget. When the economy soured in 2008, tax revenue fell dramatically and drove New Mexico into a financial crisis. Our state leaders had three options to address the budget crisis: raise revenue, cut spending or some combination of the two. Initially they reacted by taking a somewhat balanced approach—raising some revenue and cutting some spending. As the crisis continued, the approach by state leaders evolved to one that focused exclusively on cutting spending.

Over the course of the recession our elected leaders balanced the budget by:

  • Making the fifth deepest cuts in the nation to per-pupil K-12 spending;
  • Making the deepest cuts in the nation to per-pupil higher education spending, leading to steep tuition increases and a lottery scholarship program that’s now going broke;
  • Cutting special education funding, resulting in an even greater loss of federal dollars for special ed.;
  • Cutting eligibility for child care assistance so deeply that thousands of families remain on a waiting list that is now six years old;
  • Cutting funding for outreach and enrollment for children in Medicaid, leaving fewer children enrolled in the health coverage program than three-and-a-half years ago;
  • Cutting youth tobacco prevention programs, school-based health centers, youth suicide prevention, mentoring programs, and numerous other child and family support programs; and
  • Failing to adequately staff the Child Protective Services arm of the Children, Youth and Families Department, which investigates child abuse and neglect, resulting in a “savings” of $6 million to the state budget.

This is not a complete list, but it’s enough to make evident that while New Mexico’s elected leaders balanced the budget, they did it on the backs of our children. It should come as no surprise then that it was during these last few years that our children dropped to 50th in the nation in child well-being.

What is also tragic is that lawmakers somehow made room in the budget recently for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and businesses. Those tax breaks have yet to attract new jobs.

We’re entering campaign season and the rhetoric will fly about what kind of future we want for our state. My hope is that instead of recalling the deficits of the past, we’ll see a vigorous debate about our future and about the real deficit that threatens it—our disinvestment in our children. We need to drill our candidates for governor, the state House of Representatives, the Congress, and other offices about the issues that really concern us all. We need to ask questions like:

  • Will you invest in high-quality early childhood programs like home visiting, child care and pre-K, so all of our children have access to these programs within a few short years?
  • Will you restore outreach and enrollment programs for children’s Medicaid so all of our eligible children are enrolled in health care coverage?
  • Will you end the waiting list for child care assistance in your first year in office?
  • Are you willing to raise new revenue if the plight of our children and families is at stake?
  • Will you implement an economic development plan that doesn’t rely on tax breaks for profitable corporations but, instead, invests in our workforce?

Let the debate begin!

Contact your County Clerk’s office to find out who is running to represent you in state and local races.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at bjordan@nmvoices.org.

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Running from the taxman? To what?

Changing tax rates nearly always has consequences, some of which are intended, some of which are not. If we are to believe anti-tax advocates, taxes inhibit economic development, distort our economy, and cause people to “vote with their feet” by moving to a place with lower rates. Usually these claims are mere assertions without data to support them. And in fact, most unbiased analyses show that taxes have a negligible impact on economic development and that other factors—such as an educated workforce, access to markets, and quality-of-life considerations—are more important in business location decisions. The impact that taxes have on the interstate mobility of individuals and families has been less clear. Could taxes be the reason that New Mexico has seen population growth stagnate in recent years after decades of growth? The answer is a resounding no, according to a new research report.

According to the “anti-taxists,” taxes need to be slashed to reverse population declines, and this seems to be the approach that Kansas has taken. However, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), titled State Taxes Have a Negligible Impact on Americans’ Interstate Moves, debunks the claim by anti-tax advocates that high taxes cause people to flee a state. The report concludes that “Differences in tax levels among the states had little to no effect on whether and where people move.” Interestingly, fully 69 percent of Americans still reside in the state in which they were born and only about 2 percent make interstate moves. So what causes us to decide to move to another state?

line graph showing decline in interstate relocation

Just as with economic development, other factors seem to be more important. Not surprisingly, it’s jobs—either new, transferred or lost—and family issues that a vast majority cite as the reasons for moving across state lines, according to the report’s author Michael Mazerov. Notably, evidence also shows that people are almost as likely to move to high-tax states as low-tax states. This is clearly not consistent with the policy recommendations espoused by the anti-tax advocates. So what gives?

Those who constantly cry for tax cuts seem not to comprehend that communities with well-paying jobs with great schools, decent streets, strong public safety, cultural amenities, and parks are what draws residents and business. Working to establish an appropriate balance between taxes and these other factors that make a community a great place to live is much more productive work for public officials than fixating on tax cuts.

The state of Kansas is a great illustration of the folly of basing economic development strategy and resident retention on tax cuts. Since Kansas slashed their personal income taxes, their courts have ruled that the state is not adequately funding their public schools, and now bond rating agencies have warned investors to be careful about investing in bonds issued by the state.

Just like Kansas, we are now facing lawsuits on the funding for our public schools. And just like Kansas we have been making poor decisions about taxes, such as the misguided and unnecessary corporate income tax cuts of 2013 and the annual erosion of our gross receipts tax revenue through the granting of special tax breaks. And, just like Kansas, our population growth has stopped.

So what are we to conclude from this comparison with Kansas? Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. got it right when he said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” I also believe—and evidence backs me up—that we can’t tax-cut our way to prosperity. What we really we need is sustained investment in people, transportation, and water management to change the direction of our state not more tax cuts.

James Jimenez is Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy Integration at NM Voices for Children. Reach him at jjimenez@nmvoices.org.

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Yet another missed opportunity for our kids

Since New Mexico dropped to 50th in the nation in child well-being almost a year ago, little if anything has been done to turn things around for our kids. Now comes news of yet another lost opportunity for improving outcomes for our young people.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just released a new report on state ObamaCare enrollment through the health insurance exchanges or marketplaces. The report shows a dramatic failure on the part of New Mexico to sign up young people. Of all the states, New Mexico was tied for 5th worst in the percentage (14 percent) of sign-ups who were under age 26, and tied for 4th worst for the percentage (29 percent) of sign-ups who were under age 35. Just 7 percent of those who signed up on the New Mexico exchange were under the age of 18.

This wouldn’t be so bad if New Mexico hadn’t started out with one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation. States with high rates of uninsurance had the most to gain from ObamaCare. In fact, 79 percent of the New Mexicans who did sign up for coverage on the exchange received tax credits to help cover the cost of their premiums. That’s a lot of federal money that will flow into New Mexico to help keep people healthy. A lot more money would be flowing in had we worked to maximize enrollment. The fact that we didn’t use this opportunity to close the health insurance gap for our kids is just one more example of a lack of commitment by state government to ensuring that children have health care coverage.

Another example: a few years ago—well before the ObamaCare insurance exchanges opened—New Mexico cut nearly all of its funding for outreach to enroll more children in Medicaid. As a result, Medicaid enrollment of children has been flat, despite the fact that an estimated 40,000 New Mexico children are eligible but not enrolled. Efforts by advocates to restore the outreach funding failed and the uninsured rate among children remained one of the worst in the nation.

In the last year, the federal government gave the state millions of dollars to conduct outreach to enroll the most vulnerable New Mexicans in ObamaCare. These are the people who are most likely to have never dealt with an insurance company before, and least likely to have access to a computer and have the necessary computer and/or literacy skills to navigate the enrollment process. Advocates and service providers recommended that the state use the outreach money to hire people who would go into communities and actually assist these folks with the enrollment process. Instead, an out-of-state P.R. company was hired to create an ad campaign. Clearly the ads weren’t as effective as they could have been.

For a state that is 50th in child well-being, one would think that our leaders would have grabbed this extraordinary opportunity to use those millions of dollars of federal outreach money in the most effective way possible in order to improve health outcomes for kids. Sadly, as this new report shows, it was just another missed opportunity.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at bjordan@nmvoices.org.

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