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NM shows modest improvement in child well-being

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s national child well-being ranking improved from 50th last year to 49th this year, displaced by Mississippi, and following Louisiana, according to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book.

The book also tracked improvements in the state’s national rankings in economic well-being and health.

Compiled annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the 2021 book, released Monday, primarily used statistics from 2019, the most recent year available. Consequently it does not reflect changes or trends that may be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s encouraging to see that child well-being was improving before the pandemic hit,” said James Jimenez, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, which is the state grantee for the Kids Count network.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that investments the state made in children and families beginning in 2019 – as well as throughout the pandemic – helped offset some of the health and financial problems caused by the pandemic,” he said.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a charitable nonprofit based in Maryland that focuses on improving the well-being and futures of American children and their families.

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

While the state improved ever so slightly in many indicators over last year’s data book, New Mexico overall was worse than the U.S. average in most of those categories.

The good news is that compared to the previous year’s state numbers, in the domain of economic well-being New Mexico saw fewer children living in poverty, fewer children whose parents lack secure employment and fewer teens neither in school nor working.

In education, there were more eighth graders proficient in math, and more high school students graduating on time.

In the domain of family and community, there were fewer children in families where the head of household lacked a high school diploma, fewer children living in high poverty areas, and a lower teen birth rate per 1,000 births.

While there was no improvement over last year’s data book in the domain of health, the state’s national ranking in this area improved from 41st to 37th as a result of worsening conditions in other states.

Although it’s too early to know how the expanded 2021 child tax credit included in the American Rescue plan will affect New Mexico, it will no doubt translate to improvements in a future Kids Count Data Book, said New Mexico Voices for Children spokeswoman Sharon Kayne.

The tax credits, expected to start showing up in July, provide a couple with one child under age 6, and a household income of $150,000 or less, periodic payments totaling $3,600 per year, or $300 per month. Families with children 6 through 17 would receive a credit of $250 per month, or $3,000 per year per child.

“About 95% of children in the state will benefit from the expanded tax credit, Kayne said, including nearly 32,000 children who will be lifted above the federal poverty level.

“Child poverty really underlies a lot of the other indicators. So kids whose families earn a very low income are less likely to have the resources they need to do well in school, are more likely to lack health insurance, and more likely to have parents who lack a college degree or high school diploma,” she said.

Tax credits like this one allow money to be spent in a way that the family deems is best for them. Most will spend it on food, clothing and other necessities, Kayne said, “but parents can also get their car fixed so they can get to work or look for a job, or afford better childcare.”

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