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NM improves, but still failing its children

New Mexico moved from the 49th worse state for child poverty to 48th, a slight improvement, but clearly nothing to brag about, according to the just released 2018 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book.

“Although we saw improvement in child poverty, we’re still ranked near the bottom of the nation because other states saw larger improvements,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which produces the annual data book.

The organization released the findings of the data book during a news conference in the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday morning – the opening day for this year’s legislative session.

For comparison, New Mexico, with 27 percent of our kids age 18 and younger living at or below the federal poverty level, is tied in 48th place with Mississippi; Louisiana, with 28 percent of its kids living in poverty, was ranked 50th; New Hampshire, with 10 percent of its kids living in poverty was ranked first in the nation.

The federal poverty level for 2017 was $16,240 for a family of two; $20,420 for a family of three; and $24,600 for a family of four.

The New Mexico Kids Count Data Book includes the most recent data on the status of child well-being at the state, county, tribal and school district levels. Nationwide, the Kids Count initiative, a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is an effort to track the status of children in each state based on four major categories – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community – and four indicators within each of those areas.

According to the New Mexico Data Book, the state continues to mirror some national trends in recent years. These include a drop in the rate of teen pregnancy, fewer children living in high poverty areas, fewer children without health insurance, as well as a higher rate of high school students who are graduating on time.

But even here, New Mexico lags behind the nation on all of these indicators except health insurance, the data book says.

And while much of the nation is seeing fewer children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment, New Mexico continues on this downward trend.

At the root of New Mexico’s most serious problems is poverty.

“As poverty can have a detrimental impact on all aspects of a child’s well-being, solving poverty definitely has to be our first order of business,” Jimenez said.

He suggested that one way to improve child well-being in New Mexico would be to invest more in child tax credits.

“We also need to raise the minimum wage, make child care assistance co-pays decrease more gradually as income increases, so parents don’t lose all assistance at once, and increase the Working Families Tax Credit, among other things,” Jimenez said.

Amber Wallin, deputy director for New Mexico Voices for Children, said that New Mexico “has enacted a flawed and failed tax cut strategy, slashed personal income tax rates for the wealthiest in our state, slashed corporate income taxes for big multi-state businesses, and we’ve made Swiss cheese of our gross receipts tax by giving carve-outs to group after group.”

As a result, we’ve “greatly underfunded programs that are really important for kids in New Mexico, and for improving their well being.”

In addition to fully funding education programs and making sure teachers are well paid, legislators need to look at our tax system “and make sure it is fair for working families,” as well as making sure that our revenue system “is stable and sustainable,” Wallin said.

“We need to get off the oil and gas boom-to-bust roller coaster,” she said.

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