by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal
July 21, 2015

New Mexico once again ranked 49th in the nation for child well-being, according to the 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report ranks the 50 states using 16 indicators of child well-being under the general categories of economic well-being, in which New Mexico is ranked 48th; education, the state ranked 49th; health, New Mexico is 48th; and family and community, the state is 49th.

In 2013, New Mexico’s overall ranking was 50th, but improved in 2014 to 49th, where the state remains. The worst state in the nation for child well-being is Mississippi, which was again ranked 50th, while Minnesota garnered the overall No. 1 position as the best state in the nation for child well-being.

New Mexico’s child poverty rate was 31 percent, an increase from 29 percent in last year’s Data Book, and the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas increased to 24 percent, up from 22 percent.

Since the 2008 recession, the number of New Mexico children living in high poverty areas has increased by 25,000 to 125,000 and the number of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment has increased by 27,000 to 176,000.

There are, however, some bright spots for New Mexico in the Data Book: The number of high school students who did not graduate on time decreased from 29 percent to 26 percent; the child and teen death rate decreased from 33 per 100,000 to 28 per 100,000; and the teen birth rate decreased from 47 per 1,000 to 43 per 1,000.

“It’s disheartening to see New Mexico still ranked so low in child well-being,” said Veronica C. García, executive director of New Mexico Voices For Children, which is the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT grantee for the state.

“We’ve made progress in some areas and we’ve gotten worse in others but, when you look at the long-term trends, we’re simply not seeing enough change,” Garcia said. “When our children aren’t doing well, it’s an indication that our whole state isn’t doing well. Our future workforce is being shaped now. Poverty really holds children back. We can help kids in poverty reach their full potential, but only if we take intentional action and we take it early.”

Those actions “are not rocket science,” said García, but they do require a commitment from the state – something that has not yet been fully forthcoming.

“We know what works – ensuring that children have the high-quality care and learning experiences in the early years to support robust brain development, ensuring they can see a doctor and have enough nutritious food, and providing our schools and educators with the resources they need to do their jobs properly.”

Further, she said, the state must support parents seeking opportunities to improve their own educations, as well as helping them get access to child care, job training, and jobs that pay living wages and earned sick leave.

New Mexico Voices for Children also is opposed to the state Human Services Department’s proposed work rule changes for people who participate in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The program, which is federally funded but run by the state, has more than 493,000 participants, of which more than 217,000 are children.

“We have the third worst child hunger rate in the nation, with 28 percent of our kids suffering from food insecurity,” said García. “Now is not the time to make changes to SNAP.”

The state, she said, has not fully recovered from the 2008 recession. There are not enough jobs and we have the highest rate of long-term unemployment in the nation – meaning 45 percent of our unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, but are still actively looking for a job.

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