Choosing Equity in All Policies

Download the full data book (Jan. 2024; 97 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

New Mexico has the great fortune to be made up of many diverse and deeply rooted communities. Our languages, cultures, and traditions connect us to our history and our land. While every community in New Mexico has the knowledge and wisdom they need to succeed, policymakers throughout history have often chosen not to acknowledge or celebrate the unique assets that make our state special. Too often, policies have been designed to deny opportunities to – and in some cases to erase – members of tribes, nations, and pueblos, immigrant communities, people of color, and working families who are low-income. These exclusionary policies have resulted in significant inequity in our nation and in New Mexico, with disparate outcomes in education, health, and economic security arising along racial and ethnic lines. And some of the harshest effects of inequitable policy choices prevent far too many New Mexico kids from thriving.

New Mexico can choose to address the myriad racial disparities that exist in our communities by making equity a fundamental consideration in all policies moving forward. Equity should be at the heart of every policy considered, whether for education, health, the environment, housing, workers’ rights, or taxes. Choosing to center equity improves outcomes and conditions for everyone.

Recently, we saw a striking example of how policy choices impact equity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress expanded the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC), which resulted in the largest decrease in child poverty on record. Not only did child poverty dramatically decline, but the gaps between the poverty rates for children of color and those for white children also narrowed. Not surprisingly, the year after the pandemic-era CTC expired, the gaps in poverty by race and ethnicity widened again and the nation saw the largest increase in child poverty on record. By allowing the federal CTC expansions to expire, Congress effectively chose to push millions of children nationwide back into poverty.

Clearly, poverty is a policy choice. The good news is that New Mexico’s leaders are making many policy choices that we know will decrease poverty rates and improve outcomes for our kids and families. Over the past several years, policymakers created a state-level Child Tax Credit, expanded and increased the Working Families Tax Credit, established paid sick leave, created the Opportunity Scholarship to provide every New Mexican with a tuition-free college education, increased the minimum wage, raised eligibility for child care assistance to 400% of the federal poverty level, and eliminated copays for child care, making child care free for the majority of families. Together, all of these policies allow families to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets to cover the basic needs of their children. And each of these policies improves equity.

Right now, New Mexico has the vision and the resources to center equity in our policy choices and to provide programs and resources to alleviate poverty and address many other challenges facing our health and education systems. For the past few years, New Mexico has seen record revenue surpluses that have provided us with  new opportunities and new money to support a variety of policies that increase equity, including:

  • Education from the earliest years through higher education;
  • An increase in our new state-level Child Tax Credit; and
  • Free school meals for every student.

A significant portion of that new revenue has come from an oil and gas boom, but history has shown us that a boom always comes before a bust, and that puts our kids and families at the mercy of the boom-and-bust revenue cycle. While the state has made important strides in managing that volatility through various investments and rainy day funds, if we want to continue to center equity in our policy choices and to invest in things like housing affordability, behavioral health, education, and other policies that support family economic well-being now and far into the future, we have to further stabilize and diversify our revenues away from the oil and gas industry. This begins with increasing taxes for large, profitable corporations, eliminating expensive loopholes in our tax code, repealing the capital gains tax deduction that overwhelmingly benefits the state’s wealthiest, and increasing the personal income tax for the highest income-earners. By strategically modifying our state tax code, we can simultaneously improve equity in our state while alleviating the budget pressures New Mexico will inevitably face due to oil and gas volatility and the industry’s eventual decline. And as we become less reliant on oil and gas, we can focus on a just transition to clean energy sources that will also help to address the inequities our communities face due to climate change.

Breaking New Mexico’s over-reliance on the oil and gas industry would also come with added environmental health benefits for our children. In many cases, industries that produce dangerous pollutants are placed in communities that are low-income and predominantly made up of people of color. Too many children attend schools near active and polluting oil and gas wells and many more have environmentally induced asthma. And we all are experiencing heat waves and climate disasters that continue to worsen with every year that our policymakers don’t choose energy policies that focus on equity and the health of our children and communities. This year, we’ve included several environmental indicators in this publication to highlight the price our communities pay as a result of pollution and climate change.

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 by measuring indicators in four areas – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community – for which you’ll find data in this 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. And while the data included in this publication are important and useful, they don’t tell the whole story. We often don’t see the lived experiences of all communities accurately reflected in these numbers. Many of us have been taught that data are objective, and that the numbers we see reflected in statistics are unequivocally true. But choices are made throughout the data collection process that not only prevent them from reflecting our strengths, but that also limit, erase, and devalue the lived experiences of many groups including the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, tribal communities, and many communities of color, particularly Black and Asian communities here in New Mexico.

The data also paint a picture of child well-being from a deficit perspective – a perspective that sadly ignores the extraordinary resilience, unmeasured strengths, and many successes of our children, families, and state in the face of deeply embedded systemic challenges. 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 that typically implies only Hispanic, white, and Native American communities make up our population in the state and that these racial and ethnic groups have most often lived in relative harmony with one another throughout history. In response, we are including 2021 data disaggregated by all available 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. 2024; 97 pages; pdf)
Link to the press release
Find more data for New Mexico and the U.S. at the KIDS COUNT Data Center