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NM again ranks last in child well-being

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico may be on top of things in tamping down coronavirus, but it’s still dead last in the nation in child well-being, according to the national 2020 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The 2020 Kids Count Data Book, which reports state trends regarding child well-being, ranks New Mexico in last place for a third year in a row. (Courtesy Annie E. Casey Foundation)

New Mexico was also ranked 50th in 2019, 2018 and 2013.

The rankings are based on 16 indicators that measure and track child well-being in the larger domains of economy, education, health, family and community.

On the upside, there was slight improvement in a number of indicators.

Much of the new data is from 2018, the most recent available, and provides comparisons with the 2017 data book. The pandemic and economic slowdown are not reflected.

The latest data does, however, reflect “10 years of stingy state budgets under previous administrations that starved our schools, courts, health care and other services” of resources that could have helped kids to thrive, said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the state Kids Count program.

“We were able to undo some of that damage during the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, but how lawmakers respond to the current recession will determine whether those gains are sustained,” Jimenez said.

The good news is New Mexico is starting to see improvements in a number of areas as well as “big investments in programs that matter most to kids,” such as in education, early childhood education and child care programs, said Amber Wallin, deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children.

According to 2018 census data, there are 540,084 children in New Mexico ages 18 and younger, the age group covered by the data book.

Most of the improvements are slight compared with the previous year, but the overall improvement over the past 10 years is more dramatic, Wallin said.

The indicator of children living in poverty, for example, shows an improvement of just 1 percentage point, from 27% in 2017 to 26% in 2018. The national average is 18%. That still ranks New Mexico as the second-worst in the nation, with 124,000 kids living in poverty, but far better than the 154,000 kids who lived in poverty in 2010, Wallin said.

The percentage of fourth graders not proficient at their reading level worsened from 75% to 76%, well above the national average of 66%; while the percentage of eighth graders not proficient in math improved from 80% to 79%, still worse than the national average of 67%.

The rate of high school students not graduating on time improved from 29% in 2017 to 27% in 2018 but remains worse than the national average of 15%.

In other indicators:

⋄ Children living in single-parent families dropped from 45% to 41%, higher than the national average of 35%.

⋄ Children living in high poverty areas dropped from 24% to 21%, still more than twice the national average of 10%.

⋄ The death rate from all causes among children and teens age 18 and younger increased from 32 per 100,000 deaths to 34 per 100,000, higher than the national average of 25.

⋄ The teen birthrate fell from 28 per 1,000 births to 25 per 1,000 births, higher than the national average of 17 births per 1,000.

⋄ Replacing the indicator for teens who abuse drugs or alcohol is a new indicator: teens who are overweight or obese, which increased from 30% in 2017 to 32% in 2018, slightly more than the national average of 30%.

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