by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal
January 17, 2017

The annual New Mexico Kids Count Data Book released Tuesday shows the most improvement in measures of children’s health, but little improvement in measures of family economic well-being.

The data book, a project of New Mexico Voices for Children, showed declines in the rate of babies with low birth weight, in children without health insurance, and in teens abusing alcohol and drugs. The teen birth rate has also declined, following a similar national trend.

These gains can be “tied directly to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which extended Medicaid coverage to low-income adults,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “This means more kids are getting well-child check-ups, vaccinations and help with chronic problems such as asthma.”

The possibility that the ACA may be repealed “won’t have a huge impact” on children, said Voices for Children spokeswoman Sharon Kayne, “because most of the kids who got covered were from Medicaid-eligible families, and they should still be covered under Medicaid.”

However, families who bought coverage on the insurance exchanges may lose their health insurance in the event of repeal, she said.

The number of teens abusing alcohol or drugs has improved from 10 percent in 2008-2009 to 5 percent in 2013-2014. That translates to 8,000 fewer New Mexico teens abusing alcohol and drugs. The percentage of teens who engaged in binge drinking also decreased, dropping from 17 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in 2015, according to the data book.

Twenty-six percent of New Mexico children live in high-poverty areas, where the rate is 30 percent or greater. The national average is 14 percent. Between 2013 and 2014, 10,000 more New Mexico children fell into this category, and 35,000 more New Mexico children lived in high-poverty areas in 2014 than did in 2010.

New Mexico also saw in increase in the percentage of kids whose parents don’t have full-time, year-round employment, with a 22 percent increase since 2008. The state is now ranked 48th nationally on this indicator.

This is a reflection of “New Mexico’s ailing state economy, and that we haven’t fully recovered from the recession,” Kayne said. “So families are not as financially secure as they could be.”

New Mexico’s child and teen death rate is 31 deaths per 100,000, far worse than the national average of 24 per 100,000, and ranking New Mexico 40th in the nation on this measure.

More than 141,000 children in New Mexico live in poverty, about 29 percent of all children in the state and the second-worst percentage in the nation, according to the data book. While the rate and number decreased slightly from 2014 to 2015, over time it has gotten worse. About 22,000 more kids now live in poverty than did in 2008 – an 18 percent increase.

Thirty-one percent of New Mexico children live in households where families spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. This is a slight improvement over the 33 percent reported in 2013, and it improves the state’s ranking from 29th in the nation to 20th on this indicator.

“High housing cost burdens can push families into substandard housing, and mean that many – especially low-income families – have little to spend on food, health services, utilities and child care,” the data book said.

Copyright 2017, Albuquerque Journal