New Mexico moves up to 49th in rank for child welfare

·3 min read

Jun. 21—New Mexico's ranking among U.S. states in child well-being is up by one spot.

But a key children's advocate acknowledged the modest move — from No. 50 to No. 49 — indicated that despite some improving numbers, the state has a long way to go when it comes to making things better for its youngest citizens.

"Forty-ninth is nothing to brag about — it still means that as compared with other states, with just these 16 metrics we're just not doing that well," said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, one of the state's leading advocacy organizations. "But on the other hand ... we are finally beginning to see a trend of us moving in the right direction."

The 2021 rankings, titled Kids Count, were released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Maryland-based philanthropic organization focused on child welfare. The 2021 report primarily relied on data from 2019 and the rankings don't account for changes that may have occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The count utilizes 16 indicators that touch on economy, education, health and family to calculate a composite score that determines each state's rank. The indicators include academic proficiency, poverty and child and teen death rates to evaluate the state of child well-being across the U.S.

New Mexico traditionally has not done well in the Kids Count rankings, usually swapping the 49th and 50th spots with Mississippi.

But Jimenez said there are some reasons for optimism as New Mexico looks to the future, including the expansion of Medicaid several years ago and a just-passed working families tax credit that could reduce child poverty.

"This year we've furthered our family and child well-being initiatives by implementing the most progressive tax credits for New Mexico families in state history, putting money back in the pockets of hundreds of thousands of hardworking New Mexicans," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wrote on Twitter in response to the new data.

But New Mexico also saw declines in some of its indicators and only marginal improvement in others.

The number of single-parent homes in the state, for instance, remains 10 percentage points higher than the U.S. average, at 44 percent, according to the data — an increase from 41 percent in the most recent report.

Education indicators also remain well below that of national averages. At 79 percent, lack of eighth-grade math proficiency remains more than 10 percentage points higher than the U.S. average, and hasn't moved since 2019.

"We're still not seeing the metrics around public education at the level that we'd like to see them," Jimenez said.

He added the outcome of the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, in which a state district judge in 2018 ruled the state was not doing enough to provide an adequate education to at-risk children, could be sparking conversations that will lead to improvements of the area over time.

Only one category improved by more than a single percentage point between the 2020 — which used 2018 data — and most recent report. While 35 percent of parents lacked secure employment in 2020, the number fell to 31 percent in this year's report.

The foundation also released U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse survey data for each state from 2020 and 2021, which indicates 53 percent of New Mexico adults in post-secondary education took fewer classes or canceled their college plans during the pandemic, a full 10 percentage points more than the U.S. average.

Other indicators — including adult confidence in paying rent, food insecurity and health insurance rates — were about on par with U.S. averages.

"It's going to be interesting to see where we end up a year from now," Jimenez said.

The federal government launched an expanded child tax credit as part of President Biden's American Rescue Plan, which will provide $200 to $350 in monthly payments to parents making a certain amount of annual income.

Currently set to last through the year, the program could have more impact on child poverty rates if it is sustained, Jimenez said.

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