By Emily Wildau, MPP

Executive Summary

The goal of this analysis is to provide some insight into the characteristics of young parents (ages 18 to 24) in New Mexico, including information about their employment status, educational attainment, health insurance coverage, and poverty status. Young parents face unique challenges as they take on parental responsibilities, including lower paying jobs, myriad economic barriers, and fewer opportunities to pursue the education and training that can provide a path to higher paying jobs. They face the tradeoff of either working and putting school on hold or of attending school while still affording child care and basic necessities for their young families. In spite of the many challenges of being a young parent – or perhaps because of them – this population is motivated, organized, resourceful, and resilient. While these characteristics are less likely to be reflected in the data, it is critical that, while documenting their challenges, we note the strengths of New Mexico’s young parents that are beyond the scope of this analysis.

Three groups were considered in this analysis: young parents, older parents, and young adults without children. ‘Young parents’ are defined as adults ages 18 to 24 who live in a household with their own child(ren) younger than 18. ‘Older parents’ are adults who are 25-years of age or older who live in a household with their own child(ren) younger than 18. The third group, ‘young adults, no children,’ are adults ages 18 to 24 without children.

Respondents are identified as either ‘male’ or ‘female’ in the data, which is a limitation that does not take into account those who may identify as non-binary. However, for the purposes of this report, we have referred to all male-identifying respondents as ‘young fathers’ and female-identifying respondents as ‘young mothers.’

The races included in this analysis are white, Black, Native American, Asian/Pacific Islander, some other race, and 2 or more races. The two ethnic categories are Hispanic and non-Hispanic. Hispanic (or Latino) refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. People who identify their ethnicity as Hispanic may be of any race. As the options of ‘some other race’ and ‘two or more races’ are self-selected, it is not possible to determine exactly what races are being referred to by those categories.

Among the indicators analyzed are employment, household income, poverty level, ability to speak English, and U.S. citizenship. In terms of employment, individuals are either currently employed, are unemployed (meaning they are out of work but are actively searching for a job) or are out of the labor force (meaning they are not employed and are not seeking employment). Household income is a summed number that includes income from every member of the household so it cannot be assumed that the income level reflects only what is earned by the young parent. The federal poverty level (FPL) is a formula based on family size and income that is updated annually to take inflation into account. The English language category looks at those who do not speak English, those who speak only English, and, among those who speak English in addition to another language, those who speak English very well, well, and not well. As for citizenship, all persons born in the U.S. are citizens. Not all U.S. citizens were born in the U.S. and may have been naturalized. People who are not citizens may be resident aliens, refugees, may be here on a visa, or may lack documentation.

Young parents make up a small share of all parents in New Mexico with minor children. They also make up a fairly small share of all young adults. They tend to skew toward the older end of the age range (ages 21 to 24) and most have just one child. Young parents are also more racially and ethnically diverse than both older parents and young adults without children. Females are overrepresented among young parents, far more so than among older parents and young adults without children. Since they must reside in a household with their own child in order to be counted as a young parent, this indicates that many young fathers do not live in the same household with their children.

Perhaps not surprisingly, young parents have a higher rate of unemployment than older parents, they tend not to earn high incomes, and they live below the FPL at higher rates than older parents and young adults without children.

Young parents are more likely to be in school than are older parents, but are significantly less likely to be in school when compared to young adults without children. Young parents may be more likely to be in school than older parents because they see this as a worthwhile pathway to make a better life for their child or children. Part of the reason may also simply be due to age: many older parents have already completed their educational journey in comparison to young parents. Young mothers make up the majority of young parents enrolled in school, while school attendance among young adults without children is evenly split between males and females.

Young mothers appear to face the greatest barriers to success. They are far more likely to be out of the labor force, more likely to earn less than $25,000 annually, to live at or below the FPL, to report having a disability, to not be a U.S. citizen, and to either not speak English at all or to not speak it well. While they are overrepresented among those young parents who lack a high school diploma, they are also overrepresented among those who have at least one year of college but no degree. Young mothers have health insurance at higher rates than do young fathers and are far more likely to be enrolled in a public insurance program such as Medicaid.

Young parents who are Native American also appear to face greater barriers to success than young parents of other races or ethnicities. They are more likely to not be in the labor force, to earn less than $25,000, live below the FPL, and lack health insurance. They are also less likely to be attending school and tend to have lower levels of education but have the highest level of speaking English well among those who speak English in addition to another language. These challenges stem from a legacy of colonialism and structural and systemic racism but the fact that so many New Mexicans who are Native American speak a language in addition to English indicates a cultural resiliency that is noteworthy.

The majority of children of young parents are only children. A large percentage are younger than 5 years old and, based on the race and ethnicity of young parents, these children are more likely to be children of color. Children of young parents are also more likely to be in families with low incomes, living in poverty, in families receiving SNAP benefits, and enrolled in public health insurance, most likely Medicaid.

Download the full report (May 2023; 36 pages; pdf)