Promoting Generational Prosperity

Download the full data book (Jan. 2023; 85 pages; pdf)
Link to the press release
Find more data for New Mexico and the U.S. at the KIDS COUNT Data Center

Introductory Essay

Lots of things are handed down in families through the generations – things like stories, traditions, recipes, family bibles, and old photographs. Economic security also tends to flow through families from one generation to the next. Just like wealth is generational, so is poverty. That’s one of the reasons it seems like such an intractable problem. In addition, over the course of this nation’s history, policies and practices have been put in place to withhold from people of color – often intentionally – the opportunities and tools needed to build economic security. Many of these policies continue to this day.

Parental levels of education are a chief factor in the generational nature of family economic security. Families with higher levels of education generally have more economic resources and social supports, so they can provide their children with more and better opportunities – the kinds of opportunities all children need to reach their own unique potential. But our public education system has also been an avenue for disadvantaging and excluding people of color. It has done so with, among other practices, unequal funding systems and by using curriculum that fails to recognize and uplift the contributions, histories, and strengths of these students’ communities.

This is where we, as a state, come in. By making the right investments and by getting rid of policies and practices that disadvantage people of color and ameliorating the lasting impacts of those policies, we can ensure that all children have the opportunities they need to thrive. And, just as we invest in these opportunities as a collective, we all benefit from them as well. Today’s children are tomorrow’s doctors, teachers, engineers, and other professionals who make our modern way of life possible. They are also tomorrow’s parents and the more opportunities we can provide them now, the more likely they will have the resources to provide those opportunities to their children.

In recent years, New Mexico has made some exceptional strides in ensuring that all children have opportunities. To do this, we’ve worked with lawmakers to create – then increase and expand – tax credits that help hard-working families. Parents will see one of these important policy changes next year as the brand-new state-level Child Tax Credit can be claimed for the first time. These changes have also improved racial and gender equity in the tax code.

State lawmakers have made other policy changes that will benefit New Mexico’s children and families. These include a statewide paid sick leave policy so parents can stay home to take care of a sick child, an historic expansion of child care assistance so parents have safe, affordable environments in which to leave their children while they work, and the extension of postpartum health care through Medicaid to help support new parents during some of the most important months in their new child’s life. New Mexico also continues to expand early childhood care and education services such as home visiting and pre-kindergarten.

As this year’s report includes some data from 2021, you’ll see in the full publication that these investments held our progress steady and in some cases are starting to make a difference. Given that the nation was still recovering from the worst of the pandemic recession, it’s particularly impressive that the data reflect no significant declines – and even some slight improvements – in child well-being. In fact, most states saw some similar results in 2021 and much of that had to do with federal COVID relief funds. But states like New Mexico – that enacted public policies that help support working families – should see lasting improvements. Those states that did not are likely to see many improvements fade as the federal relief funding runs out.

These well-targeted and effective public policies are a great foundation upon which to continue building stronger families and communities. But there is still work to be done.

In addition to expansions in early childhood care and education services, our cradle-to-career educational system can be improved. We need to ensure that our K-12 student population – which is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse in the nation – is receiving culturally appropriate education. Studies show that when children are connected to their cultures and communities through their curriculum, they are more engaged in school, which leads to better outcomes. And while the state has made college education much more affordable, we still fall behind much of the nation in directing more of our financial aid to those students with the most need.

All of these investments, of course, require revenue and that is another bright spot for the state at the moment. As we begin the 2023 legislative session, New Mexico is looking at the largest budget surplus in state history – with more than $3 billion. This expected revenue is thanks in large part to federal COVID relief funding and high prices for oil and natural gas.

Most lawmakers understand that this expected surplus is temporary. The federal COVID relief funds will end soon, and – as we’ve seen happen many times over the years – the oil and gas boom will eventually go bust. Temporary surpluses like this are considered non-recurring revenue – meaning we can’t rely on having it again next year. Unfortunately, some lawmakers are talking about using the money for something many of them don’t see as a recurring expense – tax cuts. Much like direct spending on recurring services, permanent tax cuts will continue to cost us year after year – long after the surplus money is gone. Not all tax cuts are created equal, of course. Lawmakers who want to cut taxes should focus on rebates and credits that are targeted to those New Mexicans who earn the lowest incomes. These kinds of targeted tax cuts not only spur economic activity, but they also make the overall tax code more equitable along the lines of race and gender.

Lawmakers would be wise to invest this one-time money to build capacity for our communities, such as expanding broadband for our rural and tribal areas. Lawmakers could also create funds for emerging needs, such as protecting New Mexicans from the ravages of climate change. They could also invest in systems that address the public health impacts of climate change and the need for a just transition away from fossil fuel overreliance, cleaning up abandoned oil wells that are polluting our air and water, and investing heavily in renewable energy such as wind and solar. 

New Mexico’s lawmakers have made some excellent investments in our children and their families over the past few years. These investments will shore up the long-term progress the state has been making in improving child well-being. And we can continue to make progress if we make our kids the highest priority in all of New Mexico’s future policy decisions.

New Mexico’s KIDS COUNT Story

KIDS COUNT is a nationwide effort to track the status and well-being of children in each state and across the nation measuring indicators in four areas – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community – for which you’ll find data in the full publication. You’ll also find policy recommendations in each area for improving outcomes. 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 can be influenced by their experiences in the early years.

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. The data also paint a picture of child well-being from a deficit perspective – a perspective that sadly ignores the extraordinary resilience and unmeasured strengths of our children, families, and state. That story can be found among New Mexico’s unique cultural and linguistic diversity, centuries-old traditions, and our enduring sense of community.

The data also tell us where we have been rather than where we are now or where we are going. 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

Wherever possible, data are disaggregated to help provide a clearer understanding of disparities by race and ethnicity. In the past, New Mexico Voices for Children has reported data sets from organizations that suppress data for some races because the data are derived from small sample sizes, meaning the estimates are less accurate. We recognize this as problematic given our country’s long history of cultural erasure and New Mexico’s tricultural myth. In response, we are including 2020 data disaggregated by all races and ethnicities when possible. These data will include a note regarding high margins of error for smaller demographic groups so readers are aware that some estimates may be less reliable than others while still providing insight into how smaller communities of color are faring in the state. Some rural and tribal areas in New Mexico are also undercounted in U.S. Census data and can be underrepresented in other sources. As a result, the statistics throughout this report tell an even more limited story, and in some 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 these data to better understand the stories, voices, and people behind the numbers. We are also committed to engaging with the communities left out of this data and advocating for better, more accurate, and inclusive data.

Download the full data book (Jan. 2023; 85 pages; pdf)
Find more data for New Mexico and the U.S. at the KIDS COUNT Data Center