October 22, 2021

Conference provides fresh data on wellbeing of New Mexico children during the pandemic

Don Usner/Searchlight New Mexico

Searchlight New Mexico reporter Lauren Villagran interviews Diana Murillo-Trujillo, mayor of Anthony, NM, on June 25, 2018 at New Mexico Voices for Children’s annual Kids Count Conference in Albuquerque.

New Mexico Voices for Children held its annual conference Thursday and put a special emphasis on the need to support women of color.

The nonprofit, which advocates for children and family-friendly policy, provides the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids COUNT data book each year. The data book, which gives data from recent years to show things such how New Mexico ranks in child wellbeing comparative to other states, came out earlier this year. But during the conference, Amber Wallin, deputy director of NMVFC, provided some recent data on how the pandemic is affecting children in New Mexico.

Wallin said that as of September of this year, 21 percent of New Mexico parents were unsure of how to pay the rent; 31 percent of New Mexico households with children are not eating enough; 38 percent of New Mexico households with children had difficulty paying for basic household expenses; and 40 percent of New Mexico parents with children under 5 faced childcare disruptions in the month of August because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wallin also talked about the gender and racial inequities of the pandemic. Employment rates for workers in the bottom wage quartile decreased by 12.7 percent, as of late June when compared to January 2020 before pandemic hit. But employment rates for workers in the high range quartile increased by 13.6 percent during the same period.

“The COVID recession is not a typical one. It’s the most unequal one in history,” Wallin said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham provided a pre-recorded message at the beginning of the conference where she highlighted some of her family-friendly policies that have gone into effect, including tax credits and rebates which James Jimenez, executive director of NMVFC, has said would help improve poverty levels for families with children of color around the state.

Related: State and federal child tax credits improve equity for children of color in the state

She also talked about raising the income eligibility for early child care assistance from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent for a family of four.

Related: NM expands early childcare subsidies

A panel made up of a group of women of color representing various organizations in New Mexico talked about some of the impacts of the pandemic on families and women of color. One panelist, Marian J. Méndez-Cera, workers’ justice organizer and policy coordinator, El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, said the pandemic exposed how immigrant workers earn low wages, were “deemed essential” but could not apply for federal relief and remained vulnerable financially and in terms of their status.

“It’s important to carve out space for low-wage workers. Historically they have been left out,” she said.