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NM kids move up a notch on list

If it’s any consolation, New Mexico is no longer 50th in the nation in child well-being.

We’ve moved up to 49th.

The national rankings are included in the 2014 Kids Count Data Book, released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The private, grant-awarding philanthropic organization is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families at risk because of poor educational, economic, social and health circumstances. It also provides data to help inform public policies and practices regarding children and families.

Depending on the category, the 2014 book includes data going back to 2010 and 2011.

“We’re still at the bottom, and we’re sort of playing leapfrog with Mississippi,” said Sharon Kayne, communications director for New Mexico Voices for Children, the child advocacy organization that is the Kids Count grantee for the state.

“We were 49th in 2012, they were 50th, and then in 2013, we were 50th and they were 49th. Now we’re back to being 49th and they’re back to being 50th. The bottom line is New Mexico is better than this, and we can do better by our kids.”

Poverty seems to be the biggest factor in the state’s ranking, Kayne said. “The pre-recession housing boom was good for New Mexico, but the recession hit us pretty hard and we’re still recovering.”

There is a direct connection between the health of the state’s economy and the health of the state’s families and children.

Children in single-parent families went from 42 percent in the 2012 book to 44 percent in 2014. It was 23 percent when tracking began in 1992, Kayne said. The percentage of children living in what are considered poverty areas rose from 21 percent last year to 22 percent this year.

Further, Kayne said, New Mexico “now ranks worse on some indicators that we used to do better on,” including low-birth-weight babies.

The percentage of children in families who live at or below the poverty level slightly improved from 31 percent last year to 29 percent this year. The rate of families with children where the head of household has a high school diploma has also improved, as has the teen birthrate, something that mirrors the national trend.

“The main issue is child poverty, and that impacts most of the other indicators,” Kayne said. “The best way to deal with that is a two-generation approach: Help the kids by intervening early with home visitations, and providing high-quality child care and pre-K. At the same time, we need to help the parents improve their economic situation by making sure they get a high school diploma or job training skills.”

Additional steps include providing financial assistance for high-quality child care, making sure that kids are signed up for Medicaid and other appropriate public assistance programs, and raising the state’s minimum wage, she said.

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