New Mexico Moves From 50 to 49 in Child Well-being



New Mexico moved up from the bottom ranking of 50 in the 2013 national KIDS COUNT rankings to 49 in child well-being this year in the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book.

While improvement was made from the 2013 to 2014 editions of the report in some child well-being indicators—such as child poverty (dropped from 31 percent to 29 percent), high school graduation rates (rose from 67 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2012) and our teen birth rate (dropped from 53 births per 1,000 female teens to 47 per 1,000)—others declined.

Key child well-being indicators that declined from the 2013 data report to this year’s report include the percent of children living in single-parent families (increased from 43 percent to 44 percent), the rate of children living in high-poverty areas (increased from 21 percent to 22 percent), and the percentage of eighth graders who are not proficient in math (increased from 76 percent to 77 percent).

“Although our ranking has slightly improved, there is still much work to be done to improve children’s ability to thrive in the state. It’s a tiny step forward, but only if we can keep up the positive momentum of change,” said Dr. Veronica C. García, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the KIDS COUNT program in New Mexico. “The fact that New Mexico has always been in the bottom ten states—and this year in the bottom five states—in  terms of child well-being is what’s concerning. In other words, we need to do better by our children—much, much better.”

This is the 25th year the Annie E. Casey Foundation has released the KIDS COUNT Data Book along with its rankings of the 50 states. The highest New Mexico has ever ranked was 40 in 1995. States are ranked according to how well children fare in 16 indicators that have an impact on children’s ability to succeed in life.

This include rates of children without health insurance, the percentage of children whose parents do not have secure employment or high school diplomas, fourth grade reading proficiency rates, and the like.

“If we continue to fail to address the well-being of our children in a comprehensive and effective way, New Mexico will maintain its rank at the bottom of the heap,” Garcia said. “New Mexico’s future is being formed today. It is shaped by whether all our children have access to the opportunities that will put—and  keep—them on the path to success. We know what policies will move the needle. We know, for example, that high-quality early childhood care and learning programs provide a strong, positive basis for children’s long-term health, and academic and employment success. We know that the return on this kind of investment far out-performs any other later investments we might make. The only question is whether we are willing to commit to making the investments.”

The 2014 edition of the Data Book includes a look at some longer-term trends in the data both at the state and national levels. While, in general, New Mexico has followed the national trend in most KIDS COUNT indicators, such as the teen birth rate (which has declined over the past 25 years) and percent of children living in single-parent homes (which has increased over that time frame), there are two notable exceptions.

For one, since 1992, the rate of fourth grade reading proficiency—a basic indicator of students’ ability to succeed in education—has risen in all states except New Mexico and North Dakota. North Dakota’s rates, however, have been consistently higher than New Mexico’s in this measure. Also, though the percentage of teens 16-19 who are not working and not in school improved in the U.S. over this time period, the rate has gotten worse in New Mexico. 

After New Mexico’s drop to 50 last year, NM Voices released NM KIDS are COUNTing on Us: A Policy Agenda for a Better New Mexico, which included policy recommendations for addressing all 16 of the indicators of child well-being in a comprehensive way.

 The child advocacy group released an updated policy agenda last month that includes several new recommendations. It also notes whether recommended policies were addressed during the last legislative session.