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Another year… another ranking at the bottom of the barrel. New Mexico has ranked among the worst states in which to be a child for so long that it hardly seems like news anymore. In the 25-plus years that the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been publishing the KIDS COUNT Data Book, we’ve never ranked above 40th. Most years, we’ve ranked in the bottom five, but we can and we must do better by our kids.
We have made progress in some areas. Over the last several years, child and teen death rates and teen birth rates have gone down, along with the percentage of children who lack health insurance, while high school graduation rates have gone up. (Download the New Mexico KIDS COUNT profile for the data. It’s also included at the bottom of this post.) While these are positive trends, they align with national trends, so our improvements don’t necessarily change our placement among the states because most other states are seeing these improvements too.
There are some equally significant negative trends as well—such as increases in child poverty, children living in areas where there is widespread poverty, and children whose parents do not have secure employment.
And then there are those indicators that seem intractable—where, from children attending preschool to fourth grade reading scores, we’ve seen no real movement one way or the other. When taken in the aggregate, child well-being seems to have flat-lined in the state. When will New Mexico’s lawmakers and leaders make improving child well-being their top priority? When will the people of New Mexico demand it?
When our children aren’t doing well it’s an indication that our whole state isn’t doing well. Our future workforce is being shaped now. Almost one-third of our children live in poverty, and children in poverty do not have the same opportunities their better-off peers have; opportunities that help them be successful in school and life. With so many of our children missing out on these opportunities, what kind of workforce will we have in the next decade or so? Will we have workers who are well educated, skilled, and ready to take on the challenges of the coming years or will we have a workforce fit for low-wage jobs?
Children do better when their parents do better, but unemployment is high and we were recently ranked as having highest long-term unemployment in the nation. Despite that, the state’s Human Services Department wants to take SNAP benefits away from children whose parents cannot find work. Our future parents and families are also being shaped now. With nearly one-third of our children living in poverty, what kinds of families will we have in the decades to come? Will we have parents who delayed starting a family until they were older, better educated and more financially secure? Or will we have parents who were still children themselves when they had kids, didn’t go far in school, and won’t do better than low-wage work if they can find a job at all? Better-educated parents lead to better-educated children. Children in families with less well-educated parents don’t do as well in school.
This is why poverty is generational. Poverty is so difficult to break out of because it puts children at a significant disadvantage—whether it’s a lack of health care, not enough nutritious food, no books in the home, no safe places to play outdoors, few or no opportunities that enrich them and stimulate the brain development that ensures them success in school, or the presence of chronic stressors that actually diminish this all-important brain development. For many children, it’s a combination of all of the above.
We can shake our heads and say other people’s children are not our responsibility, or we can demand that all children have access to the opportunities that put them on the path to success in school and beyond. Their futures depend upon it, to be sure. But so do ours. Today’s children, each with his or her own unique potential, are tomorrow’s doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs and engineers. Or not. They can also be tomorrow’s economically disenfranchised who will not reach their own potential and, therefore, will have little in the way of positive contributions to offer their communities and the state.
We can help kids in poverty reach their full potential, but only if we take intentional action and we take it early. As NM Voices for Children has been saying for years, one of the best ways to turn things around for our state is to make investments in our children in their early years. So much of a child’s life trajectory is determined in the first five years of life. Home visiting, high-quality child care, pre-K—these programs lay the foundation for healthy brain and social development and positive educational outcomes. They make up for the opportunities low-income kids so often miss out on. They work, and they are the best investment in the future that we can make. The state is increasing its investments in early childhood care and education programs like these, but the increases in funding have been incremental. Kids can’t put their childhood on hold, so when we fail to invest in those early years we’ve missed the best opportunity to put children on a path to success.
Our NM KIDS are COUNTing on Us campaign offers numerous actions our leaders and lawmakers can take to improve child well-being. It’s time we demand they put child well-being first.
Amber Wallin, MPA, is the KIDS COUNT Director for New Mexico Voices for Children.
NM has the highest long-term unemployment and extreme hunger, so why does the state want to make parents work for food?
There’s an old saying that when you’re stuck in a hole the first thing you should do is stop digging. New Mexicans are used to hearing that their home state is in the hole. We are at the bottom of the nation in everything from child well-being to poverty to hunger. Despite this, there are some up in Santa Fe who want to continue to dig.
A report put out last week by Governing shows New Mexico at the very bottom for long-term unemployment. Nearly half of our unemployed workers have been out of a job for 27 weeks or longer. To be clear, only people who are out of a job and are actively seeking work are considered unemployed. Those who have given up ever finding another job are not counted. You have to be working hard to find work in order to be considered one of the 64,000 New Mexicans who are unemployed.
And New Mexico’s unemployed are working hard. Not only are 45 percent of them considered long-term unemployed, but these folks have also been out of work for 43 weeks, on average. That’s just nine weeks short of a year, and far longer than the national average of 28 weeks. While the long-term unemployed across the nation are either finding jobs or giving up after 28 weeks on average, New Mexicans are still hitting the pavement many months later.
They have to because New Mexico was hit hard by the Great Recession. We lost 36,000 private-sector jobs between 2008 and 2009. While things have improved, we still had 20,000 fewer jobs in May of 2015 than we did in May of 2008. As part of the federal stimulus, states were allowed to waive work requirements for people receiving SNAP food benefits. Some states have reinstated the federal work requirements for their SNAP recipients, but New Mexico continues to be eligible for a waiver because our economic recovery has been so slow. That, however, does not faze the folks at our Human Services Department. They’ve decided to decline the waiver so they can take SNAP benefits away from people who are still unable to find a job. They’ll even take food away from kids as young as seven.
A quick read through of the HSD document detailing the proposed rules change (NM Human Services Register Vol. 38 No. 13) gives some clue as to the department’s desire to turn away federal dollars for hungry New Mexicans. In order to continue receiving SNAP, recipients would have to complete an “Individual Responsibility Plan,” among other things. The title of the plan alone implies that only irresponsible people need assistance. The plan is described as a “tool” to assist SNAP participants in “long-term career planning,” by addressing their “barriers” to employment, setting “realistic” employment goals, and identifying the steps necessary to achieve those goals.
To be fair, some SNAP recipients may indeed benefit from such a plan. But if you lost your job because of the economic downturn and have done everything in your power to find a new one but can’t—because New Mexico still has 20,000 fewer jobs than it did seven years ago—an individual responsibility plan is worse than useless. It’s insulting. Taking away SNAP benefits because those 20,000 jobs still have not magically reappeared—despite the creation of all those individual responsibility plans—is adding insult to injury.
In a strong economy, work requirements are reasonable. New Mexico’s economy is still weak and job creation is slow. On top of that, almost one in three New Mexico children—or 28 percent—don’t have enough food to eat. These are kids who often go hungry despite SNAP, school lunch programs, food pantries, and the other charitable organizations that offer food assistance. If the folks at HSD get their way, some of these kids will be hungrier still.
Because it’s required by law, HSD must allow public input on these regulations before they go into effect. The rules change document is not easy to find on HSD’s website (but you can download it here) and neither is information about the public hearing on July 17. Perhaps HSD should come up with its own individual responsibility plan and put “improving communication with the public” at the top of the list.
The public hearing is Friday, July 17, 1:30-4:30pm, at the DOH Harold Runnels Auditorium at 1190 St. Francis Dr. in Santa Fe. You may also email your comments to HSDfirstname.lastname@example.org or call the Governor’s office at 505-476-2200.
Veronica C. Garcia, Ed.D., is NM Voices for Children’s Executive Director.
This infographic was prepared in response to the NM Human Services Department’s proposed rule changes for SNAP recipients. Click on the image for a larger version.
This handout was prepared for the National Commission on Hunger, presented June 24, 2015. Click on the image for a larger version.
After Dorothy Gale is swept away to a magical land in The Wizard of Oz, she spends the rest of the iconic movie trying to get back to Kansas—the black-and-white Kansas of the Dust Bowl. One has to wonder, though, if she had been swept away from the Kansas of 2015 would she still be so keen to get back? While Kansas has recovered from the severe precipitation drought of the 1930s it is now in the grips of a very different kind of disaster—a dehydrated state budget that’s been drained of enough money to pay for vital services like education, public health, and first responders.
Kansas’ self-inflicted fiscal drought is due to extreme income tax cuts, which are bleeding the budget dry. The Kansas Legislature recently passed a $6.4 billion budget for the coming fiscal year—a budget, incidentally that’s not much bigger than New Mexico’s—but it’s now looking at an estimated shortfall of $765 million. More than 10 percent of the money the state has already planned to spend has simply vanished. While Auntie Em and Uncle Henry may have gotten an income tax cut, Dorothy might be heading back to a school of over-crowded classrooms, drastically reduced learning resources, and discontinued bus service.
Spending cuts alone are not going to cover the shortfall, so Governor Sam Brownback is now suggesting raising sales taxes. (This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, but that’s the subject for another blog.)
Back in 2012, shortly after Brownback had shepherded his pet tax package through the Kansas Legislature, he assured the people in an op ed that the plan would be “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy” because it would spur the creation of new jobs.
It’s been nearly three years and it might be time for Kansas to start CPR before its economic heart is bled completely dry. Brownback would have been wise to look for a more realistic prognosis among other states—such as New Mexico—that had cut their income taxes in recent years. He might have seen that a state can’t will new jobs into being simply by cutting income taxes.
New Mexico, as you might recall, passed a top-heavy income tax cut in the early 2000s. Like the other five states that also slashed their income taxes during that decade, the idea was sold on the promise of new jobs. Of course, no such thing happened. Our job growth share rose by a tiny 0.6 percent and a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that it was more likely due to the huge increase in oil and gas prices during that decade. Oil and gas prices also drove the job growth that Oklahoma saw after its big income tax cut. However, the other four states that cut taxes in the 2000s—Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio and Rhode Island—actually saw a decrease in their shares of job growth.
Likewise with states that cut their income tax rates in the 1990s and the 2010s. On average, their job growth has been weaker than for the nation as a whole. Kansas, despite its massive tax cut, has seen job growth of just 3.1 percent since its cuts went into effect while the nation’s job growth rate has been 4.5 percent.
Income tax cuts are a zero-sum game when it comes to state economies. States can’t spend money they don’t have, so they either must cut spending (which often means cutting jobs) or raise taxes on someone else to make up for the cut. Essentially, the same amount of money that’s allowed to flow into the economy by the tax cuts is taken back out of the economy somewhere else.
Although New Mexico’s personal income tax cuts didn’t bring the state any economic benefits, at least they didn’t break the bank like they have for Kansas. Again, that was due to high oil and gas prices and a strong economy. Of course, the economy and oil and gas prices have all taken a hit since then, but New Mexico policymakers are still trying to conjure up new jobs by way of magic tax cuts. In 2013, we slashed corporate income taxes. We have seen some job growth since then but it’s been almost entirely in the health care sector because more people have health coverage thanks to Obamacare. New Mexico’s policymakers need to keep in mind that neither of these tax cut schemes have created jobs before they start to overhaul our entire tax system. Meanwhile, just like Kansas, we’re collecting less and less money for critical services like education, public health, and first responders. No wonder people are leaving the state. Kansas has been losing people to other states, too. None of them are leaving by way of tornado, like Dorothy did, but most of them are probably glad they’re not in Kansas anymore.
Bill Jordan, MA, is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for New Mexico Voices for Children.
Since the start of the Great Recession, the economic disparities between racial/ethnic minority families and white families have increased. More and more racial/ethnic minority families are falling behind in an economy that simply does not work for them. Their children—too many of whom are held back by the detrimental effects of poverty—are less likely to do any better when they grow up. This situation affects society as a whole because the population growth rate of racial/ethnic minorities is higher than that of whites, meaning minorities will soon make up a higher percentage of our children and, eventually, our nation’s workforce. Without equal opportunities to the support systems that help us all succeed in school, this growing sector of the workforce will be less able to gain the skills needed for a high-functioning, productive economy. With racial/ethnic minorities making up 60 percent of New Mexico’s adults and 74 percent of our children, the state is well ahead of the nation in terms of this demographic change. What we do as a high-poverty state to decrease these economic disparities may form a road map of sorts for the nation to follow.
- While racial minorities make up just 40 percent of all working families in the United States, they represent 58 percent of low-income families;
- While 24 million children live in low-income families, more than half—or 14 million—of them are racial minorities; and
- The economic disparities between white families and African American families is at its highest since 1989.
There are several reasons for the income disparities between racial/ethnic minorities and white families, according to the report. One of the main causes is that racial minorities are more likely to have low-paying jobs, such as those in retail, food services, health care, and housekeeping, than are whites. Besides low wages, jobs such as these have little opportunity for career advancement and provide few if any benefits, such as health insurance, paid leave, and pensions. According to the WPFP, nearly 60 percent of job growth since 2010 has been in low-wage jobs and the number of low-income families increased from 10.1 million to 10.6 million between 2009 and 2013.
Disparities in education also contribute to major differences in income. For example, in 2013, 52 percent of low-income working Hispanic families had at least one parent without a high school diploma. Lower levels of education limit a person’s access to jobs with family-sustaining wages. The lifetime earnings of a college graduate are nearly double the earnings for someone who did not get any education beyond high school. Low-paying jobs are also less likely to include benefits, which can make a big difference for working families. For example, without guaranteed sick leave, parents may risk losing their jobs simply by staying home from work to take care of their sick children. If they are allowed to stay home with a sick child, they will lose that day’s wages.
How policies can make a difference
One solution is to provide racial minorities with more opportunities to earn the necessary education and job training needed for jobs with opportunities for advancement. The cost of attending a four-year university creates a significant financial barrier. States should increase the amount of need-based financial aid for minority and non-traditional students to reduce the financial burden of paying for education. States should also increase their minimum wages and index them so they automatically adjust to inflation. This would especially benefit African American and Hispanic workers, who are more likely to have lower-paying jobs. In addition, states must also enact policies that enforce equal pay to eliminate the income disparities that racial minorities and women experience. Hispanic women earn 56 cents for every dollar that men earn, for example.
Low-income working families also need affordable child care and assistance programs to help them provide for their basic living needs. Low-income families can spend as much as 30 percent of their income on child care expenses. Simplifying the application process for programs like child care assistance, Medicaid and SNAP, and expanding these services to underrepresented communities, would make these benefits more accessible to those who qualify.
Ultimately, closing the income gap between racial minorities and white families will not only benefit working parents, but it will help children who are living in poverty as well. Our economy will also benefit when racial minorities have equal opportunities to succeed, particularly as minorities continue to represent a larger share of our nation’s workforce.
Savanna Shay Duran is a senior at the University of New Mexico and an intern at New Mexico Voices for Children.
Take a glance at any contemporary parenting blog, website or social media group and you’ll see the “mommy wars” playing out. The battles range from helicopter parenting versus free-range kids to sling versus stroller, and cloth versus disposable diaper. While the battles (and the guilt that comes with them) are real, they are keeping our attention from the real mommy wars: the abysmal lack of national policies to protect new mothers in the workplace.
Almost three-quarters of mothers are in the labor force and they are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households. Still, the U.S. is one of the few nations on the globe that does not ensure that new moms have paid maternity leave. In fact, we have no federal policies on paid leave of any kind and our policy on unpaid leave does not protect enough working women. This Mother’s Day we need national policies that reflect our nation’s true family values.
Every country except the U.S., Suriname (in South America) and Papua New Guinea provides paid maternity leave according to the World Policy Forum. Even in countries with poor civil rights records, such as Somalia, Iran and North Korea, women get at least some paid maternity leave. Women receive 12 weeks in India, 16 weeks in the Netherlands, and almost 70 weeks in Sweden. In America, only 16 percent of U.S. companies offer paid maternity leave. In addition, there are no workforce protections in place for women who are pregnant and taking even unpaid maternity leave often means the loss of a job.
Only one in eight working women receives paid family leave, which allows employees to take time off from work to care for a new baby or a sick family member. Just three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—offer paid family leave and they do it through a social-insurance system. These programs are set up much like unemployment insurance, with the cost passed along to employees (although the costs range from only pennies to a few dollars a month, depending on salary). President Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget recommendation includes more than $2.2 billion to support the development of state paid family and medical leave programs like these. Grants would help up to five states create paid leave partnership initiatives by covering initial program set-up costs as well as state leave funds. If this funding is passed, New Mexico should apply for a grant.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does require private-sector employers with 50 or more employees and all public-sector employers to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who meet certain criteria. Thanks to the many exclusions, only 60 percent of new mothers are covered under FMLA.
With no legal requirement to offer paid leave, employers generally only do so in order to attract and keep well-educated workers. Thus, low-income women—who make up more than half of the female workforce and are least likely to have paid leave—disproportionately suffer. Requiring employers to provide paid family leave would help ensure that low-income women not lose a day’s pay or become unemployed when they need to take care of themselves, a new baby or an ill family member. Paid time off allows both parents time to bond with their infants, and allows mothers time to initiate and continue breastfeeding. Women who take paid leave are significantly less likely to rely on public assistance and are more likely to be working in the nine to 12 months following a child’s birth.
On this Mother’s Day, let’s truly support mothers and caregivers. Let’s pledge to keep our elected officials accountable. Let’s end the mommy wars and instead wage war against antiquated family values that leave the needs of New Mexico families out.
Danila Crespin Zidovsky, MPA, is the Fund Development and Community Relations Officer at New Mexico Voices for Children and a new mother.
Poverty isn’t just devastating to the children who experience it. Child poverty costs the United States an average of $500 billion a year in lost productivity and earnings, and also leads to higher health- and crime-related expenses in the long term. Sadly, children from lower-income families will very likely remain in poverty as adults because poverty limits a child’s access to opportunities that would help him or her achieve success in the future and make positive contributions to the community. This cyclical nature of poverty makes it important that federal, state, and local governments invest in effective intervention and assistance programs that ensure low-income children have access to the same opportunities that help their middle- and high-income peers become successful.
But how does the government determine which programs are effective? A decades-old formula is used for determining the official federal poverty level (FPL). While the purpose of the formula is to determine whether a family is eligible for various anti-poverty programs, it is also the metric used to determine the economic well-being of various populations. Unfortunately, the formula does not take into account the value of many anti-poverty programs. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) was created to better measure the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs. A policy brief from the Annie E. Casey Foundation looks at the SPM and its usefulness for determining which programs are making a difference in the lives of children living in poverty.
A tale of two poverty measures
The formula for the FPL dates back to the 1960s and is based on the minimum cost required to provide a family with a sufficient, yet nutritious diet. This amount is then multiplied by three since the cost of food in the 1960s was one-third of a family’s budget. However, food now accounts for less than 10 percent of a family’s budget, so the formula does not accurately reflect today’s living expenses. For example, a family of three can earn up to $19,790 to be considered living at or below the poverty level. Given much higher costs for housing, health care, child care, and other expenses, a family of three earning up to $39,580—or twice the poverty level—is still considered low income. The FPL is also deficient in that it does not take into account the cost-of-living variable, which differs greatly among the 50 states.
The FPL is based on a family’s size and income. This includes wages, child support payments, and any governmental cash assistance, such as social security. However, most anti-poverty programs do not increase a family’s income because the money goes directly to those who provide the services—such as doctors, child care providers, landlords, supermarkets, and the like. While it makes sense to measure income in order to determine a family’s eligibility for anti-poverty assistance programs, this approach dose not measure the impact of non-monetary assistance programs, such as Medicaid, child care assistance, housing subsidies, SNAP or tax credits.
In other words, while the FPL can tell us how many low-income families and children are eligible for anti-poverty programs, it cannot tell us how many are lifted out of poverty by those same programs. The SPM, however, takes the value of these programs into account—along with a more accurate accounting of a typical family’s bare-bones budget and the cost-of-living differences among the states—to give us a more accurate measurement of poverty.
What the Supplemental Poverty Measure shows us
The SPM enables us to see how effective government programs are at reducing child poverty. New Mexico’s child poverty rate in 2011-2013 was 36 percent—meaning 36 percent of New Mexico’s children lived in families with incomes at or below the federal poverty level. But when the value of non-cash programs like Medicaid, SNAP and others, are taken into account, just 16 percent of our children are living at or below the FPL. This tells us that these programs lift more than 100,000 New Mexico children out of poverty. While these kids still live in low-income families, they have access to many of the supports and opportunities that will help them find success in school and later in life.
The Casey Foundation’s report also shows us that:
- Tax credits available to low-income families lift 4.8 million children out of poverty;
- SNAP lifts 2.1 million children out of poverty;
- Housing subsidies help 1 million children; and
- Using the SPM, the poverty rate among both Hispanic and Black children is 29 percent, and among Native American children it’s 26 percent, but it’s just 10 percent among white children.
We must continue to use the Supplemental Poverty Measure because it allows policymakers to assess the progress being made in the fight against child poverty. It is important that government officials at all levels have an accurate, efficient means of determining which programs are helping lift children out of poverty. Continued investments in the most effective programs will help ensure that all children have the opportunities that lead them to success.
Savanna Shay Duran is a senior at the University of New Mexico and an intern at New Mexico Voices for Children.
The notion of “paying it forward” is a popular one, and while we may not think about our income taxes as a form of paying it forward, that’s exactly what we’re doing. The public works that we all depend upon today—roads and highways, schools and parks, telecommunications and electrical grids, even courts and prisons—were made possible in part by taxes paid by past generations. And the taxes we pay today won’t just go toward keeping these systems and infrastructure in good repair, they will also be needed to plan for our future and address unexpected issues and opportunities. This kind of long-term vision is the foundation upon which the United States was built.
Our public works and infrastructure don’t just improve our quality of life, they also make our modern economy possible. Savvy American corporations understand that they depend on this infrastructure and that they bear responsibility for helping to pay for it. As the new report Burning Our Bridges (Center for Effective Government) shows, much of our nation’s infrastructure needs could be covered simply by collecting income tax on the profits that several corporations have retained overseas.
Over the last several decades, U.S. corporations have been paying a much smaller share of the nation’s taxes. In the 1950s, corporate income taxes made up more than 25 percent of the tax money collected by the federal government. It has now shriveled to just over 10 percent. Here in New Mexico, corporate income tax revenue is expected to decline by 60 percent.
While their tax bills are down, corporate profits are at record highs. Tax breaks, loopholes, and creative accounting practices are at record highs, as well. The Burning Our Bridges report looks at the loophole that allows U.S. corporations to transfer their profits to other countries that have low tax rates (or no taxes at all). The report juxtaposes the rapid rise of the offshoring of American corporate profits with the plunge in federal funding for infrastructure.
Among some of the report’s disturbing findings:
- Corporate offshoring tax abuse costs the U.S. Treasury an estimated $90 billion annually.
- Bringing our nation’s aging infrastructure up to 21st century standards will cost $3.6 trillion over the next five years.
- Our failure to make these investments will cost us $1.8 trillion a year in travel delays, water leaks and power outages.
Individuals and American businesses must bear the $1.8 trillion cost of inaction together if we allow our infrastructure to continue crumbling and failing. No business wants to lose money because of failing transportation or undependable power, but that is what will happen. Businesses understand it takes investment to ensure future profits and that includes investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure projects are appreciated by economists on the left as well as the right. The question remains: how do we pay for infrastructure, particularly when we’re collecting fewer dollars in income taxes?
New Mexico is facing this same conundrum. Despite the fact that New Mexico has granted hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax cuts over the last few years, special interests continue to lobby for more. In fact, in the just-concluded legislative session, a bill that would have cut business taxes passed the House, but not the Senate. The special interests want the Governor to call the Legislature back into a special session to pass those tax cuts. But that’s not all. They also want a capital outlay bill to fund public works projects passed as well.
We can’t have it both ways. If business groups want a state with reliable public works and infrastructure, they must be willing to make investments in it. We all have a duty to pay it forward for future generations. Forward thinking, profit-seeking businesses know they must pay their fair share to help keep our state’s and nation’s infrastructure sound.
Don Simonson is treasurer for the Board of Directors of New Mexico Voices for Children and an emeritus professor of finance at UNM.