Looking at the Whole Picture

While NM child well-being rankings remain low, advocates see improvements coming

News The 2024 Kids Count Data Book measuring child well-being released 2022's data on June 10.

While New Mexico remains in last place nationwide for child well being, according to a national study, local advocates say that ranking doesn’t tell the full story.

The 2024 Kids Count Data Book, released earlier this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, showed New Mexico 50th in the US for the third-year running.

“We understand how it can be frustrating to see the ranks stay the same, but we want to remind people that this data reflects 2022, not present-day,” Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children Gabrielle Uballez tells SFR. “It’s a data set where we expect some of the indicators to be getting worse, and it’s not all on New Mexico. That was the year a lot of federal tax credits for kids expired—Congress allowed them to expire—so, that was a big financial blow to a lot of families.”

Individual metrics provide a more accurate picture of New Mexico’s current status, she says. For instance, voters in 2022 passed Constitutional Amendment 1, which made New Mexico the first state to guarantee a right to early childhood education and allocated nearly $150 million per year from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to early childhood education and care. One area this could significantly impact is the rate of three- and four-year-olds not in an early education program, which in 2022 was 59%.

“You’re not going to see our universal childcare policies that were enacted and implemented in the last two years reflected in the long-term impacts for kids, and we won’t see them in the next three to five years, because those changes take time to see in data,” she says. “That’s going to change the lives of kids in a pretty profound way, because all of these kids now have access to high-quality childcare and education. It also impacts the people who are raising them, who are able to seek employment in ways that are more supportive because they have access to childcare that doesn’t burden their ability to bring in income or build wealth.”

This year’s Kids Count Data Book compares 2019 and 2022 to measure how much each state has improved—or failed to improve. New Mexico Voices for Children, with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s funding, also put together a New Mexico-specific data book measuring data from 2016 to 2021, which it released in January.

In some areas, New Mexico slightly improved between 2019 and 2022: children living in high-poverty areas decreased from 24% to 19%; both the rate of children in poverty and high school students who failed to graduate on time decreased from 25% to 23%; the rate of teenagers who don’t attend school and don’t have a job decreased from 11% to 9%; and the percentage of children without health insurance decreased from 6% to 4%.

Uballez notes that the rate of children in poverty has been decreasing for the past decade, as the rate peaked in 2013 at 30% in New Mexico, and that the general population’s poverty rate in 2022 (17.6%) significantly decreases when it is “adjusted to measure the impacts of income assistance programs” such as SNAP, WIC and federal tax credits. This supplemental poverty rate was 10.2% in New Mexico that year, but there is not currently a supplemental poverty rate solely focused on children.

“We can’t ignore that, because it really tells us how the policies and the resources in the budget we’re prioritizing in New Mexico are prioritizing working families and ensuring they can meet their basic needs and thrive,” Uballez says.

Areas where New Mexico worsened between 2019 and 2022 include child and teen deaths per 100,000 people, with an increase from 36 to 40; and children living in households with a high cost burden, which increased from 26% to 28%.

“I think we can learn a lot from Kids Count’s individual data sets—for example, this year, the ranking says more kids are living in households with high housing costs of burden. That points to, ‘We need to fix housing in New Mexico, we need to do it expeditiously,’” Uballez says.

Education in New Mexico also ranked 50th, with the majority of measurements worsening in 2022. Eighth-grade students not proficient in math increased from 79% to 87% and fourth-grade students not proficient in reading increased from 76% to 79%. Both are far above the national averages of 74% and 68%, respectively. Uballez says she feels that New Mexico would benefit from measuring academic success with “more culturally relevant standards of evaluation.”

“Standardized tests are not created by, for or about the people in New Mexico, especially for our very diverse student population where we have many English language learners, many students of color and the systems in tests are maybe not created for other populations in mind,” she says.

In the upcoming year, Uballez says New Mexico Voices for Children will be prioritizing policies to address housing shortages and cost and dedicating resources targeted at high school students to support both attendance and graduation rates. Additionally, she notes that she hopes to continue seeing more funds for initiatives in childcare and early childhood education, and that the legislature will support policies supporting paid family medical leave—one of which was struck down in the last legislative session.

“We’re going to see the outcomes from these things in the long term. Even though the data in the 2024 book isn’t what we want it to be or where we’re going to be, we know we’re going to get there over the long term if we keep doing what we’re doing in New Mexico and be bold in our policy making,” Uballez says.

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