Jan. 20—Public policies that helped to improve child and family well-being in New Mexico have been undermined by the pandemic, according to the just released New Mexico 2021 Kids Count Data Book.
The pandemic "has led to increased childhood food insecurity, greater numbers of children enrolled in Medicaid, and significantly higher numbers of chronically absent students," said Emily Wildau, the Kids Count coordinator for New Mexico Voices for Children, which publishes the annual data book.
The report is released at the beginning of the legislative session each year to provide lawmakers with a synopsis of the ongoing needs of New Mexico children and families. The report tracks child well-being across four domains: economic security, education, health, and family and community. Within those domains, it looks at indicators such as child poverty and food insecurity rates, parental employment and education levels, and teen birth rates.
Hardest hit by the pandemic have been families of color — particularly Hispanic families, the report said.
Among households with children that lost income in 2021, 28% were Hispanic, compared with 10% for non-Hispanic white households.
In households with children that had difficulty paying for usual household expenses, 41% were Hispanic, compared with 27% of non-Hispanic white households.
The pandemic delayed medical attention in 26% of Hispanic households with children, compared with 20% of non-Hispanic white households with children.
In households where children were not eating enough because food was unaffordable, 36% were Hispanic and 11% were non-Hispanic white; and where there was little or no confidence in the ability to make the next rent or mortgage payment, Hispanic households with children outpaced non-white households with children at 27% compared with 8%.
The rate and number of children living in poverty decreased likely because of pandemic economic relief measures, the data book said. Still, 116,000, or 25% of the state's kids live at or below the federal poverty level, ranking New Mexico 48th in the nation in child poverty.
Native American children fared the worst, with 40.1% living in poverty, followed by Black kids at 32.4%, Hispanic kids at 30.1% and non-Hispanic white children at 13.7%.
The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is credited with greatly improving the percentage of children with health insurance. At 11%, Native American kids represent the biggest group still lacking insurance, followed by Hispanic kids at 5%, and non-Hispanic white kids and Black kids at 4% each.
"Child well-being was steadily improving prior to the onset of the pandemic, and much of that was due to changes in public policies that made kids and working families a priority," said Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.
The data book noted that during the 2021 legislative session and throughout the pandemic, New Mexico legislators provided: Emergency economic relief for immigrants and others who were left out of federal stimulus payments; hunger relief for families; relief payments for essential workers; and passed a paid sick-leave policy for workers. They also agreed to allow voters to decide whether to increase the distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund, which, if approved, would result in a long-term revenue source for early childhood education and K-12 schools.
"If lawmakers continue putting kids and families first, we expect to see even more improvements, Wallin said. "However, in order to ensure an equitable recovery from the pandemic and recession, these policies must consider the unique barriers faced by our children, families, and communities of color."
The 2021 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book can be found at www.nmvoices.org/archives/16481