For 19 years New Mexico Voices for Children has published an annual New Mexico KIDS COUNT Data Book, gathering and analyzing the best data available on the well-being of children and families in our state. In addition, the book provides data at the county and, when relevant, at the school district level, to better inform local communities how their children are doing in comparison to the state as a whole.
We believe that reliable, up-to-date research and data are meaningful and needed by our decision-makers—at all levels in the state—to ensure that our state, tribal, and local policies and programs are designed to promote and support children’s interests and family economic security. We are proud to present the 2011 New Mexico KIDS COUNT Data Book, which presents the most recent data available, to give readers a clearer idea of how the recession has affected New Mexico families.
New Mexico is facing a slow recovery from the Great Recession, facing budget shortfalls that have led to cutbacks in education, health care and Medicaid, early child care and education, unemployment benefits, and other programs and services meant to boost child well-being and help families struggling with income and asset loss. Over the past decade, New Mexico has been consistently ranked in the national KIDS COUNT data book in the bottom five states in terms of the percent of its children living in poverty. In 2010, nearly one-third (30 percent) of our children lived in poverty. Even worse, more than half of our children—250,800 (a number three times the population of Santa Fe or twice that of Las Cruces)—live in poverty or in low-income families that have trouble making ends meet. (See Graph I.)
The American Dream is based on a fundamental value—that Americans can achieve success and a life of prosperity through hard work and equal opportunity. Given a fair chance, all families, with their own diligence and skills, can provide themselves and their children with a good standard of living and hope for the future. We can have economic security and dignity, and—if we fall on hard times—we should be able to ride it out with our own fiscal reserves and support from a government safety net. Americans believe in individual initiative and responsibility, backed up by necessary government supports.
Unfortunately, over time—and especially with the current economic downturn—the ability of families to realize this dream has diminished. The “middle class” has been diminished as more families fall into bankruptcy or economic distress, struggling just to put food on the table for their children and hold onto homes and jobs. Indeed, the U.S. Census Bureau just released a report indicating that New Mexico is one of only 11 states in which the percentage of people living in poverty areas is 30 percent or more—a rate reflecting the impact of the recent recession.1 All other states have fewer percentages of people living in poverty, which signifies that the situation in New Mexico is dire. The report also notes that more of those living in poverty have a high school education or less.
Families themselves have changed. More children than ever in New Mexico are living in single-parent homes, most of them headed by single mothers. Single-parent families are more likely to be without the assets and resources to weather periods of economic stress. (See Graph II.)
An “economically secure” New Mexico family has both an adequate and stable income, and enough savings and assets to survive periods of financial hardship. Families must also be able to save money for future expenses such as a child’s college education, the purchase of a home, or retirement. Such a family has enough assets to maintain the health and well-being of its members, especially children. Having family financial resources is positively associated with young children’s cognitive and emotional development.2
If a parent loses a job, an economically secure family has the resources and means to survive while looking for another job or building educational skills without risking severe hardship, such as home foreclosure, utility shut-offs, or falling into long-term
poverty.3 Unfortunately, many more of our children are living in homes in which no parent has had full-time, year-round employment in the past year.
Indeed, in 2010 almost one-third (32 percent) of the state’s children lived in a family in which no parent had a full-time, year-round job. This is a situation that places much stress on young children and has a negative impact on their future success. (See Graph III.)
Real median income growth, especially for those with less than a college education, has slowed. Although most New Mexicans value education as a path to economic and social success, our youth at the cusp of entering the labor force appear to still face great obstacles in remaining in and graduating from high school. (See Graph IV.)
It is also clear that many of those New Mexico teens not in school cannot find employment. (See Graph V.)
These are examples of factors that are negatively affecting the growth, development and well-being—today and in the future—of New Mexico’s children. In the data pages, you will be able to see how our children—in the state, in counties, and by school districts—are doing in terms of indicators such as racial/ethnic trends, families receiving SNAP benefits, children with or without health insurance, high school graduation rates, and birth and mortality rates.
When faced with difficult economic conditions, it is extremely important that state and local policy-makers not make important decisions that affect children and families without utilizing credible data and evidence about the potential impact of their budgetary and policy choices. The facts and information provided by this KIDS COUNT Data Book should be of great value in updating policy-makers on the current status of our child and family well-being. New Mexico had a high poverty rate and poor child well-being indicators before the Great Recession. Now more than ever, creative, positive steps are needed to address and decrease the negative economic and social trends that are damaging our children’s prospects for future success.
1. Bishaw, A. (December 2011), Areas with Concentrated Poverty: 2006-2010. Washington, D.C., U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce.
2. Aratani, Y. & Chau, M. (February 2010), Asset Poverty and Debt Among Families with Children, Columbia University, National Center for Children in Poverty.
3. Half in Ten (October 2011), Restoring Shared Prosperity: Strategies to Cut Poverty and Expand Economic Growth. Found at: www.halfinten.org.
NM KIDS COUNT is a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.