Despite rapid economic growth in 2018, a report from New Mexico Voices for Children found that the number of New Mexico children living in poverty is actually increasing — nearly 1 in 3 kids is being raised at or below the poverty line. Thankfully, there are solutions capable of breaking this cycle and setting New Mexico on a path toward giving every child an equal opportunity to succeed.
“When you’re living in deep poverty, $300 is a lot of food on the table, and it helps pay one more electricity bill,” said Casau. “Even though it’s not a lot for the poorest of the poor, the fact that we are having copays for families that are in deep poverty is something that is unconscionable.”
“Our state workforces are very underdeveloped,” said Armelle Casau, a policy analyst who authored the report, released this week by the nonprofit advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children. A more skilled workforce would strengthen the state’s economy, the organization argues, and in turn would help lower poverty rates that remain among the worst in the nation.
“It’s also going to take more revenue – and it needs to be a more reliable revenue stream than oil and natural gas. If we don’t stabilize our revenue situation, we’ll just have to cut some of these initiatives when oil and gas prices go down. You can’t expect real education reform on a boom-or-bust funding cycle,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.
It will take a concerted, multifaceted effort to significantly improve child well-being because it is dependent on so many factors. But one policy with a proven, positive rate of return is high-quality early childhood care and learning. The first five years of life are critical for laying the foundation for future success, so the investments that we make in those years pay off dividends for children and society for many years — and future generations — down the road.
“It’s a chicken or egg question,” Jordan said. “Do you need the funding or do you need the workforce? Well, you can’t get one without the other. They simply haven’t funded early childhood in the way that they should.”
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.”
For instance, if this methane waste and the associated state tax and royalty revenue was captured, the state could increase pre-K enrollment by 50 percent and allow 5,000 more New Mexico kids access to quality early childhood education, according to education advocates New Mexico Voices for Children.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to gut the Bureau of Land Management methane waste rule means our state will lose out on millions of dollars in royalty revenue that is desperately needed to fund our schools. It makes no sense to waste our resources and tax dollars, especially when it puts our kids’ education on the line. New Mexico’s kids need leaders who will stand up to waste and defend their right to a good education.
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.