News Column

Worst State to Be a Kid

June 25, 2013

After circling the drain for more than two decades, New Mexico finally got sucked in, coming in last in a national survey ranking childhood well-being.

The 2013 National Kids Count Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-being, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation from federal government statistics, was released today. It delves into four areas that affect kids long term: Economics, education, health, and family and community life.

New Mexico came in 50th overall for the first time since the survey began in 1990. Regularly ranking near last, it dropped from its previous 49th place ranking, flipping positions with last year's loser, Mississippi.

New Mexico wasn't at the very bottom of the barrel in any of the four categories, but it was next to last in all of them. In the economic well-being, and family and community categories, it was 49th to Mississippi's 50th; in education, it was 49th to Nevada's 50th; and in health, it was 49th to Montana's 50th.

Coming in last is a simple question of arithmetic and not a highly significant change, according to the report's main author.

"(We give) a standard score for each of the indicators, then everything gets added together," said Laura Speer, a demographer with the Baltimorebased foundation, who managed the study over three months with data from the Centers for Disease Control, the Census, and the National Center for Health Statistics and other federal agencies.

"New Mexico is consistent in being on the bottom across the different domains, where Mississippi had some bright spots that put it up to 49," Speer said. "But in reality, Mississippi and New Mexico are very close in terms of how kids are doing. It's a minor difference that can make one state 50 and one state 49."

Veronica C. Garcia, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, attributes New Mexico's overall ranking to its drowsy recovery from the recession, an increase in children living in single-parent families and parents lacking year-roundfull-time employment.

Mississippi is getting more children into preschools, which is why the states switched places in the ranking, she said. "Mississippi improved more than we did," Garcia said. "Investment in pre-k is the way to change that statistic."

Speer agrees. "If every single kid had a solid early childhood program they could attend, that would allow their parents to be able to work, and many of these indicators would be better. I think that's clear."

In general, New Mexico kids saw a mixed bag of gains and losses, as did the country as a whole.

The education portion of the report sought to find out how many children don't attend pre-school, how many fourth graders aren't proficient in reading, how many eighth graders aren't proficient in math and how many high school students don't graduate on time. In New Mexico, 33 percent of high school students didn't graduate on time during the 2005-2006 school year, a figure that remained unchanged in the 2009-2010 school year.

The economics category looked into the percentage of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment and teens who are neither working nor in school. Both New Mexico and the country saw worsening rates of child poverty, more unemployed parents and high housing burdens since the mid-2000s, which the report attributes to the economic crisis over the last six years.

In New Mexico in 2008, 30 percent of children's parents lacked secure employment, whereas, in 2011, 37 percent of children's parents weren't securely employed. Nationally, between 2008 and 2011, that figure went from 27 percent to 32 percent, according to the 57-page report.

In health, the report gave data on low birth weight babies, children who lack health insurance, child and teen deaths, and teens who abuse drugs and alcohol. New Mexico saw a slight dip in the number of children lacking health insurance. In 2008, 14 percent of New Mexican kids didn't have it. In 2011, those without it went down to 9 percent, mirroring a similar shift nationally, from 10 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2011.

The family and community category looked into percentages of children who were part of single-parent families, children in families where the head of household didn't have a high school diploma, children living in high poverty areas and teen birth rates.

New Mexico did see a reduction in teen births, which went from 62 per 1,000 in 2002 to 53 per 1,000 in 2010. Nationally, the numbers trended in the same direction, with teen births going down from 40 per 1,000 in 2005 to 34 per 1,000 in 2010.

Both Garcia and Speer said more health insurance for young people, and improvements to their parents' educational levels and job training opportunities -- in addition to more early childhood education -- are necessary for real improvements in children's lives but, as Garcia put it, when it comes to improving kids' lives, "There is no one magic bullet."

State rankings in Kids Count survey

Overall rank: 1. New Hampshire 2. Vermont 3. Massachusetts 4. Minnesota 5. New Jersey 6 North Dakota 7. Iowa 8. Nebraska 9. Connecticut 10. Maryland 11. Virginia 12. Wisconsin 13. Maine 14. Utah 15. Wyoming 16. Kansas 17. Pennsylvania 18. South Dakota 19. Washington 20. Idaho 21. Colorado 22 Delaware 23. Illinois 24. Ohio 25. Hawaii 26. Rhode Island 27. Missouri 29. New York 30. Indiana 31. Michigan 32. Oregon 33. Alaska 34. Kentucky 35. North Carolina 36. Oklahoma 37. West Virginia 38. Florida 39. Tennessee 40. Arkansas 41. California 42. Texas 43. Georgia 44. Alabama 45. South Carolina 46. Louisiana 47. Arizona 48. Nevada 49. Mississippi 50. New Mexico More data

To get more detailed data, calculated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's report, and to create your own maps and calculations, go to datacenter.kidscount.org

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(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services





Source: Copyright Albuquerque Journal (NM) 2013


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