When it comes to the census, it pays to be counted. The next big census is less than three years away, and a lot is at stake for New Mexico. Besides being used to determine voting districts, data from the 2020 census will translate to almost $3,000 coming into the state per person, per year for the next decade.
Diana was nervous as she spoke to the nearly 400 people gathered at our 5th annual KIDS COUNT Conference. As part of the panel discussion on women’s economic security and child well-being, Diana shared her frustration when, after a decade of working in the early education field and rising to the level of assistant director, she was still earning minimum wage. Her only raises, she said, came from changes in minimum wage laws. But this wasn’t the part of her story that I found most powerful. What really stuck with me was when she told us about having to become a single parent after surviving a domestic violence attack.
It's always gratifying when we can link a good outcome directly to a specific public policy--as we can in this case. We can also often predict a poor outcome when a bad decision is made. If we're smart, we'll use that knowledge to make better decisions. In this case, however, some lawmakers insisted on making a bad decision anyway.
At our recent Kids Count Conference, I asked the room of nearly 400 attendees to raise their hands if they had ever spent money on activities such as music lessons, team sports, preschool or a tutor for a child or grandchild. Then I asked if any of them would characterize that spending as “throwing money at the problem.”
Every child deserves access to the opportunities that will help them succeed. But in New Mexico--which ranks next-to-last in the nation for child well-being--too many families lack the resources we all depend upon to raise strong, healthy children. While our high rate of child poverty may seem like an insurmountable problem, it is one we can effectively address. It will take a coordinated effort and--yes--an investment of public resources, but the end result would benefit the state as a whole.
Another year… another ranking at the bottom of the barrel. New Mexico has ranked among the worst states in which to be a child for so long that it hardly seems like news anymore. In the 25-plus years that the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been publishing the KIDS COUNT Data Book, we’ve never ranked above 40th. Most years, we’ve ranked in the bottom five, but we can and we must do better by our kids.
While the official poverty level can tell us how many low-income families and children are eligible for anti-poverty programs, it cannot tell us how many are lifted out of poverty by those same programs.
The 2014 national KIDS COUNT ranking of states in child well-being just came out. There was a lot of uproar last year when, for the first time ever, New Mexico was ranked dead last—a position that had always been reserved for Mississippi. This year, Mississippi is back in 50th and we are ranked 49th. That’s good news, surely, but we have to ask ourselves … is it just a statistical fluke? Or, could our state possibly be starting to make progress in improving children’s lives? And, if this is so, can we sustain this movement?
When the national KIDS COUNT Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children report was released earlier this month it was as if the proverbial other shoe had dropped. The first shoe that fell was New Mexico being ranked dead last in the nation in terms of child well-being. Now, Race for Results presents us with a first-ever, state-level index of racial/ethnic equity for children that shows New Mexico is also failing to provide equitable opportunities for ALL of our children to succeed at key developmental stages of life.
Imagine New Mexico as a community with 33 different neighborhoods. Then imagine yourself as a business leader looking to locate your company in one of those neighborhoods. As you consider what qualities each locality offers your firm—and your employees, many of whom have families and children—you may be surprised to discover that in 16 of these neighborhoods as many as half of the children live in poverty, roughly half of the families are headed by single parents, and half of the residents have limited access to healthy foods.