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NM the worst place in America to be a kid, again

Truman Middle School student Brianna Melendez works on an assignment in March. The state has been ranked last in child well-being. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

For the third time in seven years, New Mexico came in dead last out of 50 states for child well-being, according to the 2019 Kids Count Data Book, released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The state was ranked 50th in 2013 and again last year, continuing in to this year.

Louisiana was ranked 49th this year, bumping Mississippi up to 48th. New Hampshire was ranked first.

“It’s disappointing, but not terribly surprising to see New Mexico ranked at the bottom again, given the last 10 years,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the state’s Kids Count program. “It is going to take sustained investment to undo the damage from a decade of underfunding all of our child-serving programs and services like health care, child care and K-12 education.”

The rankings are based on 16 indicators under four major domains: Economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Some of the indicator percentages worsened, some held steady and a number showed a slight percentage point improvement over the previous Data Book.

— Under economic well-being indicators, 27% of New Mexico children are living in poverty, a 3 percentage point improvement; 28% of kids live in homes where an unusually large portion of family income goes toward housing costs, a 4 percentage point improvement; 36% live in homes where parents lack secure employment, unchanged from the previous year; and 10% of teens are neither working nor attending school, up 1 percentage point from the previous year.

— Under education indicators, 56% of young children are not in school, a 1 percentage point improvement; 75% of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, unchanged from the previous year; 80% of eighth graders are not proficient in math, unchanged from the previous year; and 29% of high school students do not graduate on time, unchanged from the previous year.

— Under health indicators, 9.5% of babies are born with low birth weight, a half percentage point worse than the previous year; 5% of children have no health insurance, unchanged from the previous year; there are 32 child and teen deaths per 100,000, a 1 percentage point improvement; and 6% of teens report abusing drugs or alcohol, a 1 percentage point improvement.

— Under family and community indicators, 45% of children live in single-parent families, 3 percentage points worse than last year; 16% of children live in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma, a 2 percentage point improvement; 24% of children live in homes in high poverty areas, 2 percentage points worse than last year; and 28 babies are born to teens per 1,000 births, a 2 percentage point improvement.

“We started making progress in 2019, but clearly much more needs to be done,” Jimenez said.

“We made some real strides toward increasing our investments in children during the 2019 legislative session,” said Amber Wallin, deputy director for New Mexico Voices for Children. “However, it takes some time before improvements in public policy show up in measurable changes to child well-being. Our ranking is also dependent upon how well other states are doing, and most states made the kinds of investments during the recession that led to quicker, more robust recoveries than New Mexico did,” she added.

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