Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
Although the daily impacts of the pandemic have faded, COVID-19 continues to create significant challenges for families with children, according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book just released by New Mexico Voices for Children.
In 2022, 18% of New Mexico parents had little or no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment on time, which matches the national rate; 54% of parents had difficulty paying for usual household expenses, compared with 46% nationally; and 32% of households with children reported that the high cost of food left their children with less food to eat, compared with 28% nationally.
“The economic impacts of COVID-19 have been highly inequitable across lines of income, race and gender,” said Emily Wildau, research and policy analyst and Kids Count coordinator for New Mexico Voices for Children.
Kids Count is a state by state and a national effort to track the status of children and families using standard government-collected data in the areas of economics, education, health and family and community well-being. Much of the data is from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as New Mexico sources, including the Public Education Department, Human Services Department and the Department of Health.
In New Mexico, 76% of kids are children of color and 36% are of two or more races. Consequently, Wildau said, policymakers need to understand that issues such as the child poverty rate, poor education outcomes, unemployment, lack of health insurance and inability to acquire affordable housing “impact families of color at a higher rate because of inequities within the system, and historical and current structural racism.”
Prior to the pandemic, “New Mexico was gaining speed on the path to prosperity, a path where we were really starting to build great opportunities for our kids and families to realize their potential,” Wildau said. Among measures taken by the state Legislature were expanding eligibility for child care assistance for families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level and waiving copays; creating the Opportunity Scholarship to provide universal tuition-free post-secondary education; more than doubling the working families tax credit; passing paid sick leave; increasing K-12 funding; and providing money for teacher pay raises.
In addition, voters approved a constitutional amendment to provide new funding from the permanent school fund in support of early childhood education.
“These common sense decisions and others passed since 2019 not only continued to support the recovery of New Mexico kids and families as we’ve learned to live with COVID, but also have prevented us from seeing worse outcomes for child well-being in 2021 data,” Wildau said.
Just as important as looking at data from one year to another, is looking at data over a protracted period of time, she said.
Over the last decade New Mexico has improved at a higher rate in many indicators than the national average rates. New Mexico has 7% fewer young children not enrolled in school compared with 2% nationally; 45% fewer children without health insurance compared with 38% nationally; a 58% decrease in teen birth rate compared with 56% nationally; 5% fewer fourth graders who aren’t proficient in reading compared with 3% nationally; and 1% fewer eighth graders who aren’t proficient in math compared with no change nationally over the last decade.
Amber Wallin, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, said the organization hopes the current legislative session results in policies that continue to support children and families.
Further, she said, the state needs to better diversify its revenue sources so there’s less reliance on oil and gas money and the boom-and-bust cycles that result. “That way we can have funding for these critical programs and agencies, not just now during a historic surplus, but throughout the future, as well,” Wallin said.