“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.”
For Estela Guzman, a researcher at New Mexico Voices for Children, a statewide advocacy organization, a top priority is to increase the state’s minimum wage. “These people have to work three to four jobs just to make ends meet,” she said, adding that increasing wages is a long-term solution for many. “If the community can’t thrive, we are all missing out.”
“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.
New Mexico has some 245,000 people, or 31 percent of its workforce, earning low wages at or near a proposed minimum wage of $12 per hour. About 159,000 or nearly 20 percent of workers are paid less than $12, said Sharon Kayne, a spokeswoman at the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, which issued a report in August on the minimum wage based on data from the Economic Policy Institute.
“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.
As part of opening day at the 2019 New Mexico Legislature, the state's Voices for Children group will highlight its annual New Mexico KIDS COUNT Data Book. Deputy Director Amber Wallin said there have been improvements in teen birth rates, increased rates of kids covered by insurance, higher preschool enrollment and reduced child poverty. But the state's dead-last ranking for child well-being reported last summer means lawmakers have more work to do.
A new report on child welfare offers a deeper look at some grim statistics for New Mexico, which fell to last in the nation last year on a key state-by-state assessment of the well-being of children and families. “This is the time to go bold or go home,” says the 2018 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book, scheduled for release Tuesday.
“Although we saw improvement in child poverty, we’re still ranked near the bottom of the nation because other states saw larger improvements,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which produces the annual data book.
“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.”