The average childcare provider in New Mexico only earns about $17,400 a year, according to a 2015 study from the Center for Education Policy and Research at the University of New Mexico. The issue pits low-income workers against low-income parents, explained Sharon Kayne of New Mexico Voices for Children. “The minimum wage is not the culprit,” she said. “The culprit is that the state does not reimburse childcare providers what it actually costs to care for children.”
First, we recommend that the new governor work to make our tax system fairer and more stable. Thanks to 15 years of failed trickle-down tax cuts, New Mexico is now much too dependent on revenue from oil and natural gas extraction to fund our state services like education and public safety. But the amount of revenue we collect from oil production is based on prices that are set at the global level, so we’re stuck in a boom-or-bust cycle.
James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said state policymakers could address the inequity by embracing a more progressive tax system. "It's really a much fairer way of allocating tax responsibility to support the kinds of things that we need - good, strong schools and higher education, great infrastructure," he said. "Those are really the fundamental things that we need to figure out how to pay for in a fair way."
The numbers, while encouraging, are not necessarily a comprehensive look at childhood poverty, says Sharon Kayne, communications director for child advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children. Kayne pointed out that the poverty line referenced by these statistics is drastically low, around $20,000 a year for a family of three and about $25,000 for a family of four. So, even though the official count holds that 30 percent of New Mexico’s children are living in poverty, Kayne said the percentage of children who struggle with poverty-induced stress on a day-to-day basis is certainly higher.
A new study by Voices for Children found that the state minimum wage will only purchase $6.30 of the $7.50 buying power it had nine years ago. To keep pace with inflation, the new rate would need to be $8.95 an hour. “Given our rate of child poverty, which is the highest in the nation, it’s unconscionable that we haven’t raised the minimum wage to help New Mexico’s hard-working families and our economy,” Jimenez argues.
“That means that New Mexico will receive fewer Medicaid dollars, fewer SNAP dollars, fewer Title 1 grants for schools, less money for our school lunch program, and less funding for Head Start,” said Amber Wallin, deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children.
Officials with New Mexico Voices for Children, which partners on the survey, point to a decline in state funding as the cause for many of these problems. Deputy Director Amber Wallin said the state has passed 37 tax cuts since 2008; has reduced per-pupil funding for schools and money for higher education; and has cut back on the number of school-based health centers.
Four factors determine the Kids Count rankings: education, health, economic well-being, and family and community. The non-profit organization NM Voices for Children says changes to the state’s health data played a major role in moving New Mexico from 49th to 50th.
"It's time for citizens to really push these candidates on what they're going to do to improve child well-being," he insisted. "There are a lot of solutions out there if we really believe children are our most important asset."
“The data show we are at a crossroads,” James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said in a news release. “We can continue to disinvest in our children or we can insist upon a new direction, one in which we make a deep commitment to improving conditions for all New Mexicans.”