The numbers, while encouraging, are not necessarily a comprehensive look at childhood poverty, says Sharon Kayne, communications director for child advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children. Kayne pointed out that the poverty line referenced by these statistics is drastically low, around $20,000 a year for a family of three and about $25,000 for a family of four. So, even though the official count holds that 30 percent of New Mexico’s children are living in poverty, Kayne said the percentage of children who struggle with poverty-induced stress on a day-to-day basis is certainly higher.
Pediatric society president Brian Etheridge said it’s a resource for voters to hear from candidates on more detailed questions. "What we're trying to do is draw attention to various issues that obviously affect children," Etheridge said.
A new study by Voices for Children found that the state minimum wage will only purchase $6.30 of the $7.50 buying power it had nine years ago. To keep pace with inflation, the new rate would need to be $8.95 an hour. “Given our rate of child poverty, which is the highest in the nation, it’s unconscionable that we haven’t raised the minimum wage to help New Mexico’s hard-working families and our economy,” Jimenez argues.
“Unfortunately, children are not necessarily a topic of conversation when it comes to elections. People talk about jobs and the economy, which are all very important to child well-being, but there are other issues and we wanted to get some of those out there,” said Sharon Kayne, communications director for NM Voices.
“That means that New Mexico will receive fewer Medicaid dollars, fewer SNAP dollars, fewer Title 1 grants for schools, less money for our school lunch program, and less funding for Head Start,” said Amber Wallin, deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children.
It's never easy to admit that our home has a problem. Just look at the latest KIDS COUNT report released by New Mexico Voices for Children. New Mexico ranks dead last in overall child well-being. The factors in the report make kids in our state susceptible to becoming victims of sex trafficking.
"We've tried to tax cut and budget cut our way to prosperity. This data shows that clearly didn't work, we need a change of direction,” Jimenez said. “It's clear that our elected officials are not doing enough to invest in children."
Officials with New Mexico Voices for Children, which partners on the survey, point to a decline in state funding as the cause for many of these problems. Deputy Director Amber Wallin said the state has passed 37 tax cuts since 2008; has reduced per-pupil funding for schools and money for higher education; and has cut back on the number of school-based health centers.
Four factors determine the Kids Count rankings: education, health, economic well-being, and family and community. The non-profit organization NM Voices for Children says changes to the state’s health data played a major role in moving New Mexico from 49th to 50th.
"It's time for citizens to really push these candidates on what they're going to do to improve child well-being," he insisted. "There are a lot of solutions out there if we really believe children are our most important asset."