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New Mexico made improvements in child well-being but still ranks last

Children wait for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to make an announcement about child care subsidies on Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M.
Cedar Attanasio
Children wait for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to make an announcement about child care subsidies on Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M.

Despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing numerous policies intended to improve the well-being of New Mexico’s children, the state continues to rank last nationally. That’s according to this year’s Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released Wednesday. But, despite the concerning score, there is hope in the data.

The annual study looks at factors like poverty, education, health and family — like how many children are being raised by a single parent and the rate of teen pregnancy.

Amber Wallin is the executive director of New Mexico Voices For Children, which coordinates the study locally. She said the low ranking is despite recent policy changes.

“We’ve expanded early childhood care and education programs — we’re a nation-leader in that area,” she said. “We’ve made child care within reach and we’re increasing wages, we’re supporting our child care providers.”

Last year, the state gave child care providers a $3 raise and expanded which enrollees of the state’s Child Care Assistance Program qualified to have their co-pays waived, substantially expanding access to free childcare. This year, New Mexico also increased the amount of its state child tax credit for those with the lowest incomes.

So, why is New Mexico still dead last? Wallin said it's partly because most of the data in this year’s report is from 2021.

“That’s before many of the policies New Mexico has passed had gone into place,” she said. “Certainly before they had a chance to really have an impact.”

For the last decade, New Mexico has ranked either 50th or 49th for how well its kids are doing, but Wallin said that doesn’t mean the state is stagnant.

“I think it’s important to look beyond the rankings, to dig a little bit deeper, and look at what New Mexico has done over time,” she said.

Since 2010, the rate of New Mexico children living in poverty is down by 20%, for instance, and the rate of teens giving birth here dropped by nearly 65%. More of the state’s kids are also graduating high school.

Wallin said the reason those improvements haven’t boosted the state nationally is that others are improving too, and New Mexico had a lot of catching up to do.

“And so it’s going to take continued improvements, continued investments, and really doubling down on this progress we are seeing,” she said.

The state’s best individual rankings this year include being 26th in the nation for the number of families with burdensome housing costs and 33rd for how many kids lack health insurance.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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  • The expansion of the federal child tax credit in 2021 made a dent in how many U.S. children are living in poverty, but it ended after just one year. New Mexico, a state with the second highest child poverty rate in the country, quickly passed its own version of the tax relief for people with children last year. While parents won’t see the benefits of the state credit until they file taxes next year, lawmakers are already debating whether to increase it.
  • U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján and Representative Melanie Stansbury were in Santa Fe Tuesday to address legislators. They both highlighted how they have helped the state at the federal level and urged lawmakers to work on those same issues at home.
  • New Mexico has improved in key areas of child well-being but our state is still at the bottom. That’s according to the new Kids Count Data Book for 2022. While much of the information was collected before the pandemic it does measure the impact of COVID on anxiety and depression among kids.