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NM Child Well-Being Slips, Isolated Bright Spots

New Mexico has twice as many kids living below the national poverty line than the national average, according to new data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. (Pixabay)
New Mexico has twice as many kids living below the national poverty line than the national average, according to new data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. (Pixabay)
June 27, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – New Mexico children's advocates are highlighting a reduction in the teen birth rate and a boost in kids attending preschool, despite the state being ranked dead last in the nation for child well-being.

After capturing the 49th position for child well-being last year, the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, the annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, drops New Mexico to 50th place this year.

At New Mexico Voices for Children, Executive Director James Jimenez acknowledged there's no way to sugarcoat the state's dismal ranking. He hopes it's a wakeup call.

"If we don't do something quickly and in a sustained way, our children will not be thriving and reaching their full potential," Jimenez said.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book uses 16 indicators to rate the economy, education, health and community conditions that affect children. Among its findings: The number of young children not attending preschool improved slightly in New Mexico in 2017; and the state's teen birth rate dropped from 35 to 30 births per 1,000 female teens.

However, it also shows New Mexico's child poverty rate increased from 29 percent in 2016 to 30 percent in 2017, meaning an additional 4,000 children are living below the 2016 federal poverty line. The national rate is 19 percent.

Jimenez believes voters going to the polls in November should keep kids in mind when electing new representatives.

"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."

As the 2020 Census approaches, Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy with the Casey Foundation, said more emphasis should be placed on accurately counting children.

Speer pointed out that federal programs use census-derived data to allocate more than $800 billion a year, but the problem of under-counting young children grows worse with each census.

"About 4.5 million young children live in neighborhoods where there's a high risk of missing kids in the count," Speer explained. "And it's important because the census will inform federal spending for the next decade. We really just have one shot to do this right."

New Mexico Voices for Children held its sixth annual KIDS COUNT Conference this week, with a theme of charting a new course for the state's children.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM