New Mexico ranks 50th in the nation for child well-being for 2022, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book.
The KIDS COUNT Data Book of 2021 ranked New Mexico 49th in the nation for child wellbeing. But despite the drop in ranking, Amber Wallin, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, said the state’s rankings from 2021 to 2022 are “not comparable.” Some of the data for the 2022 data book is from 2019 and some of it is from 2020, the year COVID-19 pandemic began.
“What this data reflects is mostly pre-pandemic conditions,” Wallin told NM Political Report. “It’s reflective of the times before all the big policy changes in New Mexico. This data doesn’t capture all the changes we’ve seen in recent years.”
Wallin cited the state’s expansion of early childcare assistance to include families who earn up to 350 percent above the federal poverty level and child tax credits passed in 2021 as two ways in which the state has implemented change that will likely be reflected back in the data when the 2023 KIDS COUNT Data book is released.
The Data Book did capture some data during the pandemic and found that in 2020, New Mexico had 53,000 children — 13 percent increase from 2016 — suffering anxiety and depression. The data indicates that increases in that category were widespread across the U.S. and not unique to the state.
Wallin said the pandemic has caused data-collection challenges. She said those challenges impacted the U.S. Census Bureau and some federal agencies. The KIDS COUNT Data Book relies on data from both the Census Bureau and federal agencies for its rankings.
Wallin said it’s important to note that the data reflects strides New Mexico has made over the last 10 years.
For instance, in 2008-2012, 28 percent of New Mexico’s children lived in poverty. In 2016-2020, 26 percent did.
There are additional categories in which New Mexico saw improvement over 10 years ago or stayed the same. Those categories include such policy issues as the percentage of the 25 percent of teens who did not graduate high school on time in 2016-2020 and the 76 percent of fourth graders who are not proficient in reading in 2016-2020.
Those percentages are improvements. According to the data, a higher number – 37 percent of New Mexico’s high school students did not graduate on time in 2010-2011 and 80 percent of New Mexico fourth graders were not proficient in reading in 2009.
One area where New Mexico has seen more dramatic improvement since the aughts is in teen births per 1,000. According to the data, New Mexico had 53 teen births per 1,000 in 2010. That number has dropped to 22 teen births per 1,000 in 2020.
Wallin said there are “we’re improving over time.
“It’s a dramatic improvement,” she said.
Wallin pointed to the percentage of New Mexico children who now have health insurance. In 2008-2012, 11 percent of New Mexico’s children were not on health insurance plans. In 2016-2020, six percent were not.
Wallin called the policy changes made in the last few years an “investment” that the state will reap over time. She predicted that in addition to the 2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book reflecting those policy changes, that the recent policy changes will impact families in a generational way, so that 10 years from now, the data will indicate more significant gains.
“What we’re seeing, clearly we have a long way to go when it comes to creating great opportunities for kids in New Mexico to thrive. There are definitely some negative trends holding us back. But there are some real bright spots,” she said.
Wallin said that some categories where the state’s performance has worsened and are troubling are child and teen deaths and child obesity. In 2016-2017, 30 percent of New Mexico children and teens were overweight or obese. In 2019-2020, 34 percent were.
There were 37 teen deaths in New Mexico per 100,000; in 2010, there were 36 per 100,000. Wallin said the number reflects both deaths by suicide as well as other mortality causes.
In addition, the data indicates that the pandemic has impacted mental health, with a 13 percent increase in New Mexico children struggling with anxiety and depression in 2020, when the pandemic began.
One area of policy Wallin said she hopes to see change going forward is up for voters to decide on in November: whether they want the state to change to the New Mexico Land Grant Permanent Fund. Voters will vote on a constitutional amendment in November that, if passed, will allow the state to allocate 6.25 percent of total annual allocation of the fund’s earnings from investments, an increase from the current rate of 5 percent. The Legislative Finance Committee has estimated that in Fiscal Year 2023, the 1.25 percent added allocation would amount to an additional $245.7 million.
Of that, $126.9 million would go to early childhood education; $84.6 million would go to public education and $34.2 million would go to additional beneficiaries.
Wallin said she hopes that New Mexico will continue “child first” policies.
“If you’re investing in making childcare affordable, then that means parents are better able to go to work and create safe, healthy spaces. Kids are better prepared for school. The dividends pay off over generations. When it comes to expanding early childhood programs and tax policy, those kinds of major investments, those things will show some short term and long-term improvements. We expect the data to reflect that next year and show up in many years forward,” she said.