Amber Wallin

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s ranking in overall child well-being slipped from 49th to 50th, according to the Kids Count Data Book for 2022.

“The COVID pandemic caused major challenges for families that blunted the progress New Mexico had been making to improve child well-being,” said Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which manages the state’s Kids Count program.

More importantly, and on a positive note, the data book also shows that New Mexico “has seen consistent improvement over time in most indicators,” she said.

Comparing rankings from one year to the next often results in an incomplete picture, Wallin said. The national data book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, looks primarily at 2016 through 2020 to determine the 2022 national rankings. But compared to rankings from a decade ago, there has clearly been improvement in many of the 16 indicators assessed in four major domains.

In economic well-being New Mexico is ranked 48th; in education we’re ranked 50th; in health we’re ranked 39th; and in family and community the state is 48th. Using a formula that compares all states and all 16 indicators, New Mexico’s overall ranking is 50th, Wallin explained.

“One of the biggest improvements that we’ve seen is in teen birth rates, which decreased by 58% since 2010,” dropping from 53 births per 1,000 teens in 2010, to 22 births per 1,000 teens in 2020, she said.

There has also been “a dramatic improvement” in the number of children who now have health insurance,” Wallin said. On average from 2016 through 2020, 6% of children had no health insurance, compared to 2008 through 2012, when an average of 11% of kids had no health insurance.

“We’ve improved in the indicator of young children not in preschool and are now ranked 27th, an improvement over last year’s ranking of 29th and a ranking of 42nd a decade ago,” Wallin said. “So in raw numbers that means 6,000 more kids are enrolled in preschool than a decade ago.” There is also long-term improvement in the number of high school students not graduating on time – 25% as of pre-COVID 2019, according to the data book, compared to 37% who did not graduate on time in 2011.

While New Mexico ranks 48th in childhood poverty, Wallin said, “there’s 20,000 fewer kids living in poverty today than there were in 2012.”

What’s not reflected in the data book is “great policy progress in the past few years that put kids first,” she said, noting a number of legislative changes made from 2019 forward.

“Among them are the new child tax credit, the doubling of the tax credit for working families with kids and the expansion of child care systems to most every kid in New Mexico,” she said.

These unprecedented investments in kids and families “are all good reasons to hope that we’ll see progress in the future, but only if we keep up those investments in our kids and keep creating opportunities for our students, for day care teachers, for our K-12 education classrooms and for the economic security of our workers,” Wallin said.

“Those are the ways that we improve this long term, and it feels like we’re just getting started in the state to see what that would look like.”