Building on Resilience

Download the full data book (Feb. 2021; 106 pages; pdf)
Find more data for New Mexico and the U.S. at the KIDS COUNT Data Center


There is no place quite like New Mexico. From our beautiful landscapes to our unique traditions and multicultural communities, as New Mexicans we know we live in a place with great potential. Our centuries’ old history tells the story of people with extraordinary resilience. We’ve shown our ability to continue moving our families and communities forward through many hard times. Resiliency helps us to survive – but not always to thrive. New Mexico needs to build on that resilience to ensure that everyone can thrive. That means making investments in our families and communities. It means enacting public policies that work for all people instead of policies that create barriers for some while lifting up others. We’ve seen too many policies enacted in our state that did not work for all people. Sadly, this system of failed policies is on full display as we live through the current tough times – the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession it has caused. 

COVID-19 has highlighted the ways in which our nation has been designed to give an advantage to whites and those earning higher incomes, as well as the way our state has too often prioritized the well-being of the well-connected and corporate interests instead of our children. These systemic failures have existed throughout our history, but we have reached a critical moment where we can show our determination and resiliency through reimagining our state’s policies to repair the fault lines that have widened along racial lines, by gender, and by income levels since the pandemic struck.

New Mexico – the state with high poverty rates and the second-largest share of children of color, and where disparities by race and ethnicity are seen across the board – does not rank well against the rest of the nation. The data in this book reveal both the improvements made and the work still to be done. Our progress is slow, but New Mexico has been moving in the right direction to improve child well-being, particularly with changes made in the last two years.

During the 2020 legislative session, we saw several policies passed that will provide better opportunities for New Mexico’s children, working families, and communities of color. Among them are:

  • The Early Childhood Education Trust Fund, which will help provide a long-term funding source to invest in New Mexico’s youngest children, was created with an initial appropriation of $320 million.
  • The Opportunity Scholarship, which will provide tuition and fee assistance for recent high school graduates and returning adult learners enrolled as full-time students in two-year certificate and degree programs, was established with an appropriation of $17 million. Designed as a “middle-dollar” program, the Opportunity Scholarship will be applied to tuition and fees before federal financial aid, allowing low-income students to use their federal grants for other costs of attendance, including housing and food, transportation, and books.
  • Student copayments for reduced-price school meals were eliminated, which will further ensure that no school-aged child will go hungry during the school day.
  • School-based health centers received $2 million in funding to deliver a variety of health services to students at school, allowing kids to avoid health-related absences through easy access to preventive screenings and care.

These successes occurred after the state recorded record-breaking revenues, and they were reflected in a budget created just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, many of these successes were scaled back during a special legislative session to address declining oil and gas revenues and a recession due to the public health crisis. Cuts included: a decrease of $20 million in the new Early Childhood Trust Fund; a cut of $7 million to the Opportunity Scholarship; and a $146 million cut to the Public Education Department.

Along with the state budget, COVID-19 has dramatically changed the state of child well-being in New Mexico. Most of the data in this book reflect things as they stood in 2019. Every data book reflects the past, but the gulf between the 2019 data and how children and families are doing during the pandemic is huge. To paint a clearer picture of how our kids and families are doing now, we’ve included new data that has been collected during the public health crisis. Additional details can be found in each section of the book, but some of the most troubling changes in child well-being include:

  • As many as 34% of New Mexican children were food insecure in 2020, compared to 24% in 2018.
  • 51% of adults in households with children had lost employment income since March 2020.
  • By the end of the summer, nearly 30% of adults in households with children had little to no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment on time.
  • Almost 40% of adults in households with children reported feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge, while 27% reported feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.

For many New Mexico families, resilience may be running low. Without financial help from the state and federal governments, too many of our children and their families will suffer setbacks that will take years to recover from.

It is clear that New Mexico was making progress in 2019 and at the beginning of 2020. Now as we face unprecedented and difficult times, we need to continue to remind our leaders and lawmakers that the struggle against poverty and racism is even more crucial in determining how we move forward and thrive after the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the opportunity to reframe our systems, to create more equitable policies, and to ensure we can all rise together as a stronger, more just New Mexico. This can be accomplished if we: avoid budget cuts that harm families, children, and workers; ensure all New Mexicans can meet the basic needs of their families; use tax credits to put money in the hands of New Mexicans who will spend it quickly and locally; protect existing revenues; and, if necessary, raise new revenue.

New Mexico’s KIDS COUNT Story

KIDS COUNT is driven by research showing that children’s chances of being healthy, doing well in school, and growing up to be productive and thriving members of society are influenced by their experiences in the early years. A program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT is a nationwide effort to track the status and well-being of children in each state and across the nation in four areas – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community – measuring four indicators in each of these domains. You’ll find data for these and other indicators in this publication, policy recommendations for improving outcomes and, this year, you’ll also find data on the unique hardships faced by families and children as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At its heart, KIDS COUNT tells a story of child well-being that’s set against a backdrop of the opportunities we’ve made available to our kids. Each year, the story is incomplete as the data alone cannot tell us why things are the way they are – how we got here and how we can improve things – so in the following pages, we’ve included that context where we can. The data also paint a picture of child well-being from a deficit perspective – ignoring the extraordinary resilience that is possessed by our children, families, and state. That story can be found among New Mexico’s unique cultural diversity, centuries-old traditions, and our enduring sense of community.

The data also tell us where we have been rather than where we are or where we are going. It will be some time before we have solid numbers on both the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the beneficial impacts of the policies we listed earlier. Because of the dramatic changes occurring for children and families during this public health crisis and recession, there has been a nationwide effort to gather almost real-time hardship data to guide our lawmakers. While the majority of the data in this book look at how well we were doing a year or two ago, we have included some hardship data to better indicate what’s at stake if we don’t move forward quickly with a policy agenda centered on racial equity and child well-being.

When all is said and done, KIDS COUNT is a snapshot – an accurate, if incomplete, picture of one point in time. For policymakers and advocates alike, it is an invaluable tool meant to make us take stock of how well we are protecting and nurturing our greatest asset – New Mexico’s children.

A Note About Data

Whenever possible, data are disaggregated by race and ethnicity to provide a preliminary understanding of disparities. Data are not always available for all races, ethnicities, or tribes, which we recognize is problematic given our nation’s long history of cultural erasure. Some rural and tribal areas in New Mexico also tend to be undercounted in U.S. Census data and can be underrepresented in other sources as well. As a result, the statistics throughout this report tell a limited story, and in many cases, the numbers don’t reflect people’s lived experiences. New Mexico Voices for Children is committed to continuing to engage with the communities represented in this data to better understand the stories, voices, and people behind the numbers. We are also committed to both engaging with the communities left out of this data and advocating for better, more accurate, and inclusive data.

Download the full data book (Feb. 2021; 106 pages; pdf)
Find more data for New Mexico and the U.S. at the KIDS COUNT Data Center