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NM child well-being improves

Jose Espinoza, 18, stands outside his Vado trailer with 4-month-old Emmily and wife, Maria Rodriguez, 19, in 2018 while speaking about making just $50 a day. (Russell Contreras/Associated Press)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico, which ranks 50th in overall child well-being, showed some improvement, according to the Kids Count Data Book for 2019, which uses data from 2016, 2017 and 2018 – the most recent numbers available.

The data book shows improvement in the state’s rate of child poverty, teen births, child health insurance and preschool attendance, as well as funding increases for child care assistance, pre-K, home visiting, K-12 and Medicaid.

But there was also backsliding in some categories.

New Mexico ranks 50th in the nation once again in fourth-grade reading proficiency and 49th in eighth-grade math proficiency. The state had been making progress in reading proficiency, but this marks the first year since 2009 that the rate of students reading below proficiency has increased.

The data book also reveals that the rate of substantiated child abuse worsened from 15 children per 1,000 in fiscal year 2018 to 21.5 per 1,000 in 2019.

The report notes that “70% of New Mexico families will receive a tax cut when they file their income taxes this year, which is good news for putting more money in the hands of working people,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which compiles the data book.

“We need to make these investments long term, and shouldn’t expect because there was one good budget year that all of a sudden everyone has the resources that they need. That’s clearly not the case,” he said.

New Mexico Voices For Children will push for legislation in the upcoming session to improve the working families tax credit “so more working families can qualify to get more money back in their hands” and for a new child tax credit targeting working families who earn low wages, Jimenez said.

The data book findings are based on 16 indicators under four major domains: Economic well-being, education, health, and family and community, which are tracked by Kids Count, a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Most data is provided at the state and county levels, as well as by the state’s tribal areas.

Of the 16 indicators, New Mexico improved in seven, worsened in three, saw no change in four and had mixed outcomes in the remaining two.

The rate and number of children living in poverty decreased from 2017 to 2018. Still, with 26% of the state’s children living at or below the federal poverty level, New Mexico continues to rank poorly, at 49th in the nation in child poverty.

The median household income in New Mexico is about 19% lower than the national average.

The number and rate of children in families burdened by high housing costs, spending 30% or more on housing, decreased substantially, with 19,000 fewer children in this situation from 2016 to 2017, dropping the share from 32% of children to 28%. New Mexico’s nationwide rank also improved from 37th to 27th in this indicator.

The teen birthrate among ages 15-19 in New Mexico has improved significantly, dropping from 61 per 1,000 female teens in 2008 to 28 per 1,000 in 2017. That represents an improvement of 54% and moved New Mexico from 49th to 44th among the states on this indicator.

The percentage of children without health insurance from 2008 to 2018 improved from 14% to 5%, giving New Mexico a national ranking of 24th in this indicator. Much of that improvement is attributed to the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, particularly among Native American and Hispanic children.

The rate of teens abusing alcohol and drugs has improved slightly over the past year and more significantly over time, from 10% in 2008-09 to 6% in 2016-17. This means 7,000 fewer New Mexico teens are abusing alcohol and drugs than there were in 2008-09.

However, the percent of teens who engaged in binge drinking did not change, staying at 11% in 2017-18.

The teen death rate also improved. From 2008 to 2017, New Mexico’s child and teen death rate decreased from 40 to 32 deaths per 100,000, which is still higher than the national rate of 26 per 100,000 kids.

About 36% of the state’s children live in families where no parent has secure employment, ranking New Mexico 49th in the nation in this metric. Meanwhile, the rate of children living in single-parent families improved from 45% in 2017 to 41% in 2018 – still far worse than the national average of 35% and making New Mexico’s national ranking 47th in this measure.

On the education front, 29% of New Mexico high schoolers do not graduate on time, an improvement from 2008, when that figure was 33%, but still higher than the national average of 15%.

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