New Mexico can be a tough place to be a kid. For the last five years, Kids Count, the national survey on the well-being of children across the United States has ranked New Mexico as either 49th or 50th in the country for overall child well-being. Kids Count just released their comprehensive survey of the status of children for 2019, and again, New Mexico came in last place compared to all other states. With 34,552 more children in the state compared to 1990, the eight percent growth in population of young people leaves New Mexico with 488, 090 kids to take care of. We will all benefit when every single child in the state of New Mexico has the high quality of life that we would hope for our own child.
Systemic racism and inequities are mapped across the Kids Count data for both the United States and the State of New Mexico. For Black people, Indigenous people, Hispanic and Latinx identifying families, and families who are immigrants to this country, the racism is woven into the fabric of this country exercises itself in all areas measured by Kids Count, leaving these children fairing worse than their white counterparts. This is of particular importance to this State since Indigenous people make up 8.8% of our population, and New Mexico is one of two states (California being the other) where, since 1990, the majority of children in our State are now Latino.
The four domains that the 2019 Kids Count Data of Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community, the 2019 Kids Count Data Book paints a statistical picture for children in the State of New Mexico.
Using the indicators of the number of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high cost burden, and teens not in school and not working, Kids Count seeks to measure the effects of poverty on New Mexico families. In New Mexico, all four indicators have improved slightly since 2010, with 27% of our children living in poverty, 36% of children whose parents are lacking secure employment, 28% of children living in households with high housing cost burdens, and 10% of our teens not in school and not working. In our State, these indicators have either improved slightly since 2009, or stayed the same. The combination of these four factors places New Mexico 49th compared to the rest of the country.
Education is one of the foundations for a high quality of life, but unfortunately in New Mexico, we still are struggling to make sure our students are progressing though grades K-12 with minimum levels of proficiency in reading and math and are graduating on time. Kids Count uses the indicators of children (ages 3 and 4) not in school, fourth-graders not proficient in reading, eight-graders not proficient in math, and high school students not graduating on time to create a snap shot of the educational landscape in each state. In our State, these indicators have either improved slightly since 2009, or stayed the same. 56% of our young children are not attending school, 75% of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, 80% of eight-graders are not proficient in math (a statistic which has stayed the same since 2009), and 29% of high school students do not graduate on time in the State of New Mexico. According to Kids Count, New Mexico ranks the worst in the Nation for educational outcomes for children.
Making sure children are healthy enough to attend school, have access to insurance and doctors, are not abusing drugs and alcohol, and are not dying is fundamental to quality of life for young people in New Mexico. To measure health outcomes for each state, Kids Count looks at the percentages of low birth-weight babies born, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths per 100,000, and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs. For these categories, New Mexico is 48th compared to other states with 9.5% of babies being born underweight (a number that has increased since 2010), 5% of children lacking health insurance, 32 child deaths per 100,000, and 6% of teens measured who abuses drugs and alcohol.
Family and Community
The final set of indicators that Kids Count uses attempts to measure and quantify the adult resources that children have in their lives. In this area, New Mexico ranks 50th when compared to all other states. In New Mexico, 45% of children live in single-parent families, 16% of children live in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma, 24% of children live in high-poverty areas (an increase since 2008), and there are 28 teen births per 1,000.
The work of improving the lives of New Mexico kids is one that every single person in this State has a responsibility to participate in, with a particular and important burden placed on elected officials, the wealthy, and the privileged. At Pegasus Legal Services for Children, we work to do our part to improve lives of New Mexico kids with particular interest in direct advocacy for school discipline issues in order to reduce the time that kids spend in suspension with the intention of reducing the effects of the school to prison pipeline. Additionally, the direct representation of youth up to the age of 19 by the Pegasus Youth Law Project attempts to address the legal needs and rights of teenagers in such a way that they are empowered to transition to adulthood, whether it be as young parents, from foster care, or in relationship to medical decisions, with as much support as possible. Finally, by providing kinship guardianship legal services to grandparents and other caregivers, Pegasus works to provide stable homes and communities for the children of this State.
Further breakdowns of Kids Count data by state, race and ethnicity, region, and many other factors can be found at https://datacenter.kidscount.org/.