by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal
Jan. 16, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A persistently high child poverty rate in New Mexico continues to offset slight improvements in some indicators of child well-being, according to the 2017 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book, just released by New Mexico Voices for Children and timed for the opening day of the state Legislature.

The state rates 49th overall in child well-being, with only Mississippi faring worse.

Many of the numbers are based on statistics compiled in 2014 and 2015, and these figures in some cases update New Mexico numbers that were used in the national Kids Count Data Book that was released last summer.

According to this most recent report, there was a 1 percentage point improvement in the number of children in pre-K, childcare or preschool; the percentage of 4th graders not reading at grade level went from 79 percent to 77 percent while the number of 8th graders not performing at grade level in math was flat at 79 percent; and the rate of high school students not graduating on time improved from 32 percent to 31 percent.

But New Mexico still ranks 50th in reading proficiency and 47th in math proficiency, the Data Book said.

The birth rate among teens age 15-19 continues to drop, going from 38 per 1,000 births to 35 per 1,000 births.

At the same time, the percentage of children living at or below the federal poverty level rose from 26 percent to 27 percent, “and that doesn’t count all the children who live in low-income families that qualify for food stamps and Medicaid,” said Sharon Kayne, spokeswoman for New Mexico Voices for Children.

“We have the worst rate of child poverty in the nation,” with 145,000 kids living in poverty, which is 22,000 more than there were prior to the 2008 recession, the Data Book said. We also have the second worst rate of childhood food insecurity.

The rate of children living in single-parent families in New Mexico worsened slightly, going from 41 percent to 42 percent, and New Mexico’s child and teen death rate went from 31 to 34 per 100,000 children and teens – the second consecutive year that this measure worsened.

“We’re not doing enough to improve child well-being in New Mexico,” Kayne said. “The main reason is that we don’t have a comprehensive plan, or any sort of plan for improving child well-being. That’s not a reflection of our economy, rather it’s a reflection of a lack of leadership on this issue. We need a coordinated campaign to move families out of poverty and ensure that families have opportunities that allow them to move themselves out of poverty.”

James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said “We really hope legislators will take the policy recommendations to heart, because they can make an extraordinary difference. We all know that children are our future. But so much of their future is determined by the investments we make in them today. We’re all in this together, and if, as a society, we fail to make those investments now we will all pay the price down the road.”

Copyright 2018, Albuquerque Journal (