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New Mexico dead last in child well-being — again

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is, once again, ranked dead last in the nation for child well-being, according to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

New Mexico was last ranked 50th in 2013, and since then has occupied the 49th position, with only Mississippi faring worse. This year, however, Mississippi improved its ranking by two places, jumping ahead of both New Mexico and Louisiana.

The Kids Count Data Book ranks the 50 states on 16 indicators of child well-being, which include measures such as the child poverty rate, reading proficiency among fourth-graders, and teen birth rates. The indicators are then organized under four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

New Mexico’s child poverty rate increased from 29 percent in last year’s Data Book to 30 percent, which translates to an additional 4,000 children living below the 2016 federal poverty line of $24,339 for a family of four — and it occurred even as the national child poverty rate improved by 2 percentage points.

An additional 5,000 New Mexico children are also living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment — an increase of 2 percentage points over last year’s Data Book and as the national average on this indicator also improved.

“For 15 years we have made poor policy decisions that gutted our state’s general fund, which means there’s has been an inability to invest in programs that we know make a difference to children,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the state’s Kids Count program. “We have tried to tax and budget cut our way to prosperity, and it has not worked.”

The state also regressed on the number of children with health insurance, with 4,000 children losing that insurance between 2015 and 2016 and pushing the state’s raking from 16th to 33rd. Again, that defies the national trend of the number of uninsured children declining.

Among the bright spots in this year’s Data Book, the teen birth rate dropped from 35 to 30 births per 1,000 female teens, improving the state’s ranking from 46th to 44th.

In addition, the rate of children not attending preschool dropped from 58 percent to 57 percent, which bumped our ranking from 33rd in the nation to 31st.

Monique Jacobson, Cabinet Secretary for the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department, noted that the one well-being indicator in the Data Book that CYFD has the ability to impact is the number of kids attending Pre-K.

“We’ve been focused on moving the needle in early childhood services and you can see that as a bright spot in the report. In 3½ years, at CYFD, we’ve grown funding by more than $79 million, the majority of which has gone to early childhood programs like childcare assistance, home visiting and Pre-K.”

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