by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal
June 13, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The 2017 Kids Count Data Book, which annually measures each state’s child and family well-being according to an index of key factors, gives New Mexico an overall ranking of 49th out of 50 states, unchanged from last year’s Data Book.

There are, however, a few areas that have improved – though not by much.

Fewer children are living at or below the poverty level and in families where at least one parent has secure employment; more children are attending school and reading better by the fourth grade; more children have health insurance; and fewer teens are abusing alcohol or drugs.

Many of the improvements, modest though they might be, are a result of more people benefiting from the Affordable Care Act and the state’s expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, according to the report.

Both of those, however, are under attack by the Trump administration, said Sharon Kayne, a spokeswoman for New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the Kids Count program in New Mexico.

The Kids Count Data Book, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, presents current data, 2015 being the most recent year available, as well as multiyear trends. Each state is ranked according to its performance in the general categories of economic well-being, education, health and family/community. Each of those broader domains is further evaluated and scored according to four indicators.

The biggest improvements were in the percentage of children without health insurance, which went from 7 percent in 2014 to 4 percent in 2015; teens who abuse alcohol or drugs, down from 7 percent in 2012-13 to 5 percent in 2013-14; and the teen birthrate, which dropped from 38 per 1,000 births in 2014 to 35 per 1,000 births in 2015.

Unfortunately, the death rate among kids age 19 and younger rose from 31 per 100,000 kids in 2014 to 34 per 100,000 kids in 2015.

That New Mexico remains 49th in overall child well-being is largely because “we still have a high poverty rate, that’s really the indicator that has the biggest impact,” Kayne said.

The just released Data Book shows that 29 percent of the state’s children lived at or below the poverty level in 2015, a slight improvement over the 30 percent measured in 2014.

The number of fourth-graders who are not proficient in reading fell from 79 percent in 2013 to 77 percent in 2015; conversely, the number of eighth-graders who are not proficient in math increased to 77 percent in 2015 from 79 percent in 2013.

“Kids who grow up in poverty are more likely to start school behind their peers because they haven’t had as many opportunities for enriching experiences, and they stay behind because they continue to lack those opportunities,” Kayne said.

“A lot of it is because their parents have less education. The two best predictors of a child’s success in school is family income and parents’ education levels.”

Mississippi ranked last, with New Hampshire at the top of the list.

Copyright 2017, Albuquerque Journal