by Daniel J. Chacón, Santa Fe New Mexican
Jan. 11, 2018

If you’re tired of seeing New Mexico dead last on national lists, then you may want to stop reading right now because a new study by personal finance website WalletHub ranked the Land of Enchantment as the worst state to raise a family.

If that ranking’s not bad enough, brace yourself.

It’s the second year in a row that New Mexico has earned the dubious distinction.

“Yes, that is correct,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez wrote in an email. “New Mexico ranked last in 2017, as well.”

The ranking, though, doesn’t mean families should avoid the state or pack up and move out, the analyst said.

“We do not wish to steer anyone away from moving to New Mexico,” Gonzalez wrote. “We simply want to offer objective guidelines for families to determine the best states in which to put down family roots. New Mexico’s low ranking does not imply that there are no positive outcomes. For instance, it has the third-lowest Average Annual Family Health Insurance Premium at $813 premium for a family of four, with a household income of $60,000.”

To come up with the rankings, WalletHub compared the 50 states across what it called five “key dimensions.” They include family fun, health and safety, education and child care, affordability and socioeconomics.

“We evaluated those dimensions using 42 relevant metrics,” WalletHub wrote on its website. “Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for family life. … Finally, we determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its total score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.”

The study, for example, found that New Mexico ranked at or near the bottom for child care costs as a percentage of income, most violent crimes per capita, number of families living in poverty and divorce rates.

James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said the data WalletHub used to determine the best and worst states to raise a family is consistent with the data the organization reports annually in its Kids Count report.

“It does provide a sort of snapshot, but I would also say it’s a bit of an incomplete snapshot because it doesn’t really show the resilience of New Mexico families and that how in really tough economic times, New Mexico families have been working hard to do well by their families,” said Jimenez, a former secretary of the state Department of Finance and Administration. “That’s sort of a piece that’s missing from it.”

But at the same time, Jimenez said, he doesn’t dispute the findings.

“We have to be able to recognize when our public policies are not working and make adjustments accordingly, and clearly we haven’t done that well enough yet,” he said.

Henry Varela, a spokesman for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, said the state disagrees with the ranking.

“Under Governor

[Susana] Martinez, spending for Early Childhood Services at CYFD has increased by $67.5 million dollars supporting the expansion of programs like Homevisiting, Pre-K, Early Pre-K and Child Care Assistance,” he said in an email.

Varela said more than 28,000 children statewide are being served through those services every day.

“There are also 4,000 more children receiving childcare assistance and over 3,300 more childcare assistance-eligible children in high quality child care centers than there were three years ago,” he wrote.

Gonzalez, the WalletHub analyst, said New Mexico’s public officials should strive to provide “diverse economic opportunities” to improve the state’s ranking.

“Other important needs of families are quality education, health care, child care, safety, access to family-friendly employment opportunities, and good transportation systems — any effort to improve these aspects will certainly make the state a more attractive place to settle down,” she wrote.

Jimenez said the ranking fails to tell New Mexicans how to turn the state around.

“That’s really what we New Mexicans need to figure out, that if we want to change those rankings, which ones should we focus on and how should we focus on solutions on doing them,” he said.

Jimenez said the ranking is helpful in the sense that it brings attention to some of the state’s problems, even though many of them have already been widely reported.

“It is good to be able to shed some light on it, and maybe by having an outside third party highlight some of these negative things going on in this state, we can inspire more people to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ and take affirmative action to change these policies,” he said.

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