by Mary Hudetz, Associated Press
June 21, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s high poverty rate and staggering education statistics kept the state from improving its second-to-last place standing in the country for children, a report released Tuesday said.

For the third consecutive year, New Mexico ranked 49th among states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count assessment. The report, based on a compilation of 2014 data, measures child well-being on a variety of indicators that include health, education and economy stability. Only Mississippi ranks lower than New Mexico overall.

One of the more troubling statistics in the report this year for New Mexico showed the state slipping to last place for child poverty, with 30 percent of New Mexico youth, or 146,000 total, living at or below the federal poverty line. Meanwhile, 36 percent of New Mexico children have parents without secure jobs.

The U.S. poverty rate for children remained stagnant at 22 percent.

“When our kids aren’t doing well it’s because their families aren’t doing well. And when our families are struggling that means our state’s economy is struggling,” said Veronica Garcia, the executive director of the New Mexico non-profit Voices for Children. “Child poverty is a microcosm of a larger, systemic problem that drags down everyone’s quality of life.”

The state also fell to 50th place in education as the percentage of fourth and eight graders unable to read at the standard proficiency rate remained above 75 percent. The education slip to last place came despite some slight improvements in early childhood education, which indicated other states have been making larger strides in education and New Mexico has been struggling to keep up.

In a statement, Voices for Children noted improved access to health care for children as one major area of promise for the state in what’s otherwise become a bleak annual report. About 35,000 children began receiving health insurance after their parents became eligible for Medicaid and enrolled themselves and their children in the program.

That shift helped lift the state from 48th to 44th place in the study’s health category.

Copyright 2016, Associated Press