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Report: Poverty in NM Not What it Used to Be

February 10, 2009

Albuquerque, NM - Poverty in New Mexico is not what it used to be. This year's "Kids Count" report takes issue with the government formula that defines poverty, a calculation that has not been updated in a half-century.

The study, released by the advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children, looks at how much it costs families just to survive, in different communities across the state. Lisa Adams-Shafer, who oversees the annual Kids Count project for the group, points out that New Mexico families generally must earn at least twice the federal poverty level (FPL) amount, in order to live healthy and safely.

"Really, that's what it takes to cover the essential costs that we all pay for, such as housing and food, transportation, childcare, healthcare, other basic necessities, and taxes."

Part of the problem, Adams-Shafer explains, is that the FPL formula was created at a time when a family's major expense was food. And things have changed.

"These days, food constitutes a much smaller share of a family's budget. Also, back then, there weren't as many women in the workforce as there are now. And so, childcare is a cost that families worry about."

Another shortcoming of the FPL, she adds, is that it doesn't account for regional differences in living costs. For example, a very basic family budget for two adults and two children living in Santa Fe is $48,000, according the report.

Republicans have opposed recent efforts to update the FPL formula, claiming that it would qualify too many people as poor and, therefore, practically guarantee that poverty would never be eliminated. Others say failing to update the formula has driven down the standard of living for many low- and middle-income families.

The report can be viewed online, at www.nmvoices.org.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM