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.”
“For 15 years we have made poor policy decisions that gutted our state’s general fund, which means there’s been an inability to invest in programs that we know make a difference to children,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the state’s Kids Count program. “We have tried to tax- and budget-cut our way to prosperity, and it has not worked.”
“The data says to me that the policy approach that we have taken over the last eight to 10 years has not been working,” said James Jimenez, executive director of the Albuquerque-based advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children, which works closely with the Casey Foundation. “It says that we really don’t have much of a commitment to improving the lives of children,” Jimenez added.
Many great organizations, both state agencies and nonprofits, are hard at work addressing the major components of child development and care. Organizations such as New Mexico Kids, Farm to Table New Mexico, the Brindle Foundation and New Mexico Voices for Children address a wide range of issues, such as early childhood education, food security and safe neighborhoods.