by Ali Linan, Las Cruces Sun-News
Jan. 29, 2018

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico continues to struggle when it comes to improving child well-being, and Doña Ana County isn’t faring well either.

New Mexico was ranked as the second-worst state in child welfare, according to the 2017 New Mexico Kids Count Data book, a nationwide effort to track the status and well-being of children across the nation and in each state in four areas: economy, education, health, and family and community.

The report looked into 15 categories, 13 of which were broken down by county. Doña Ana County, one of 33 counties in New Mexico, was ranked worse than the state average in eight of the 13 categories, particularly around poverty and health.

Here is a breakdown of those numbers:

On Poverty

In the state of New Mexico, 21 percent of people live in poverty, with the median income of $44,963. In Doña Ana County, the number grows to 28 percent of people living in poverty with the medium income of $38,853.

According to the report, the overall median household income for New Mexicans is 17 percent lower than the rest of the country.

“While median incomes rose from 2015 to 2016 in both the U.S. and in New Mexico, New Mexico’s poverty rate remains much higher than the national average,” the report said.

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Those numbers also vary along racial lines. In New Mexico, 32 percent of Native Americans and 24 percent of Hispanics live in poverty.

The county also does not fare well when comparing children living in high-poverty areas. Forty-two percent of Doña Ana County children live in high-poverty areas, compared to 25 percent for the state. In this, Doña Ana County is the fifth-worst, ahead of just Torrance, McKinley, Cibola and San Miguel counties.

According to the report, 28,000 more New Mexican children live in high-poverty areas in 2015 than did in 2010. In order to combat this, suggested policy solutions by New Mexico Voices for Children include increasing access to affordable housing in safer areas and putting more money into schools, as well as reducing classroom sizes.

And with nearly half of Doña Ana children living in high-poverty areas, almost as many are living in poverty. Thirty-nine percent of children in Doña Ana County live in poverty, 12 percent more than the state average and 18 percent more than the national average.

This makes Doña Ana County the sixth-worst county for children living in poverty in the state behind McKinley, Socorro, Luna, Sierra and Catron counties.
With high numbers in poverty, comes difficulties in putting food on the table.

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In Doña Ana County, 21 percent — or more than one in five — households receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP. SNAP is a federal nutrition program based on income and resource requirements, and an indicator of food insecurity.

According to the report, New Mexico has a higher hunger rate, food insecurity rate and SNAP recipiency rate than the national average.

In addition, SNAP recipients in New Mexico are predominately Native American, at 27 percent, and Hispanics, at 24 percent.

Many children are also raised in single-parent homes. New Mexico ranks 48th on this issue, where 38 percent of New Mexico children are raised in single-family homes, compared to the national average of 31 percent, the report said.

Oftentimes, parents in single-family homes — usually headed by mothers — have to work two jobs or overtime to make ends meet and may have trouble paying for child care, which costs more than tuition at New Mexico State University, the report said.

New Mexico mirrors the national trend on this topic, which is worsening in the long-term. This is “particularly problematic in New Mexico because any of our children already live in poverty, are food insecure, and face many educational and health challenges,” the report said.

And Health

In the areas of health, Doña Ana wins some battles but loses others.

For example, 26 of the 154 infant deaths in New Mexico occurred in Doña Ana County, leaving the area with a 9.4 infant mortality rate — the second-worst behind Bernalillo County.
According to the report, the infant mortality rate in the state increased from 5.1 per 1,000 births in 2015 to 6.3 per 1,000 births in 2016. This, it said, resulted in 22 more infant deaths.

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The death rate of children ages 0-14 is also higher in Doña Ana County, compared to the state average. The county is the fourth worst in the state with a rate of 75.3 per 100,000. The state rate is 57.8.

This rate, however, does get better in the age group 15-19 where the rate decreases to 51.5, with the state rate increasing to 64.2. On this measure, the report puts New Mexico ranked at 41, and states that most youth deaths are preventable, usually caused by car accidents, homicides and suicides.

And while the number of teen deaths is high compared to the nation, the number of teens abusing alcohol and drugs is doing lower. New Mexico was tied for fourth-best in the country on this indicator.

The number of teens binge drinking has decreased from 17 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in 2015. Doña Ana County is also on par with the state average in this ranking.
The rate of child abuse is also on par with the state average at 24 reported abuse or neglect per 1,000 children. Doña Ana County is ranked 14th in the state of 33 counties.

Where Doña Ana ranks well

There were some categories where Doña Ana does do things right.

Doña Ana has more than 43,000 children enrolled in Medicaid, according to the report.

“New Mexico children face major challenges, but ensuring that they have health insurance and access to preventative care options can help address a number of these other issues that can threaten children’s health and well-being,” the report said.

Having this many children registered puts Doña Ana on par with the U.S. average of 5 percent of children living without health insurance. This is slightly better than the New Mexico average.

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The county is also ranked better than the state and national average on babies being born at a low birthweight.

According to the report, 9 percent of New Mexico babies were born at a low birth weight — weighing 5.5 pounds or less — placing the state at 38th in the country. In the U.S., 8.1 percent of babies are born at a low birth weight. In Doña Ana County, the number decreases to 7.5 percent.

This indicator is important because children born at a low birth weight are at a greater risk for disabilities, development delays and chronic conditions, among others, according to the report.

What now?

Most of disparities in the rankings run along racial lines across the country, the report said. But as 75 percent of New Mexico children are children of color, the state has a particular struggle in setting up children for success.

“By both creating opportunities for families to pull themselves up and to share in economic prosperity and also strengthening the programs that provide a safety net for families when they fall on difficult times, (the state) can ensure that all New Mexicans can strive for and achieve success. All children deserve the opportunities and resources they need to thrive and reach their full potential,” the report said.

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