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New Mexico still 49th in overall child wellbeing

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New Mexico retained its ranking of 49th out of 50 states in terms of overall child wellbeing, according to the 2016 Kids Count Data Book, set to be released June 21 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This marks the third year in a row the state has ranked next-to-last in the nation for child wellbeing; only Mississippi has ranked lower. However, New Mexico has shown some progress in a few indicators of child wellbeing, particularly in health, where the state rose four positions to 44th place.

“There are some bright spots for New Mexico in the Data Book this year,” said Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “However, some of our success is overshadowed by the fact that other states are seeing more significant improvement. Once again, New Mexico is falling behind.”

The national Kids Count Data Book ranks the 50 states on a total of 16 indicators of child wellbeing. The indicators are grouped under four domains: economic, education, health, and family and community. The indicators range from the percentage of children in poverty to fourth-grade reading proficiency to the percentage of children without health insurance and teen birth rates. Each indicator and each domain receives a ranking from which the overall ranking is determined.

This year, New Mexico fell to 50th place in the education domain. The state had ranked 49th in this domain for the past four years.

“Overall, we’ve been improving slightly in the education domain, especially in preschool attendance,” said García. “Making strong gains in the rankings is difficult, because as all states make improvements, they move upwards together.”

New Mexico also fell to 50th in the child poverty indicator, even though the state’s rate of child poverty — 30 percent — fell slightly from 31 percent in last year’s Data Book. New Mexico did pull ahead of some other states in one area.

“The biggest bright spot was our ranking in the health domain, which rose from 48th last year to 44th this year,” said Amber Wallin, MPA, New Mexico Kids Count director. “We can give a lot of the credit for this improvement to the fact that New Mexico chose to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“Some 35,000 kids who were already eligible for Medicaid but who were not signed up received insurance when their parents enrolled. States that didn’t expand Medicaid didn’t see such a dramatic increase in children with health insurance. It just goes to show that public policies can lead to dramatic improvements for our children.”

The single most significant indicator impacting child wellbeing continues to be New Mexico’s high child poverty rate, according to García.

“Child poverty is the persistent problem that’s going to keep our state at the bottom of the rankings until we have the political will to address it in a comprehensive way,” she said. “When our kids aren’t doing well, it’s because their families aren’t doing well. And when our families are struggling, that means our state’s economy is struggling.

“Child poverty is a microcosm of a larger, systemic problem that drags down everyone’s quality of life. But it’s not likely to budge until we ensure that every family has the tools necessary to work their way out of poverty.”

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