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Officials with NM Voices For Children hold press conference for 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book

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In a press conference Wednesday, NM Voices for Children Executive Director Amber Wallin and Policy Analyst/KIDS COUNT Director Emily Wildau discussed the release of the “2021 New Mexico KIDS COUNT Data Book”.

This annual release accounts for the child well-being in the state and tracks several indicators across four domains. Economic security, education, health, and family and community. 

The indicators include issues like child poverty and food insecurity rates, parental employment, and education levels, and teen birth rates. Released before the annual legislative session, this data provides lawmakers with an idea of the needs of children and their families.

In a press release, it said the focus of this year’s data book was on the need to ensure that the recession recovery is equitable along racial, ethnic, and gender lines.

Wildau said that many of the KIDS COUNTS relied on the American Community Survey (ACS), which is conducted by the Census Bureau. But due to data collection challenges because of the pandemic, most of the data in this year's data book shows how children and families were pre-pandemic.

“Because we have these challenges we did take the time to add more depth to our 2019 data that we did release last year.”

One step taken to add more depth is the desegregation of data. In past years, most of the KIDS COUNT indicators were only designed to show the state of well-being of White, Hispanic, and Native American children.

“In this year, we were able to begin the process of working with some of our data partners to show how our Black and Asian kids are doing on many of the 16 primary KIDS COUNT indicators.”

Wildau said they will continue to work to desegregate as many more indicators as they can in the years ahead.

Hardship data was one area of collection that was not interrupted due to the pandemic and reflects how children and families did in the first year of COVID-19.

“One really key piece of 2021 hardship data that’s included in this year’s data book shows us that many New Mexico families spent their expanded monthly child tax credit to pay down their debt.”

Wildau shared this graph, shown below, to show the different ethnicities spent their federal child credit.

Wildau also said that child food insecurity also increased during the pandemic, in 2018 it was 24%, in 2020 it was 26%, with more households receiving SNAP benefits. 

Also up was the number of children enrolled in Medicaid.

“In 2021, we saw around 20,000 more children and youth enrolled in Medicaid, with about 3,000 additional Native American youth enrolled compared to 2020” Wildau said.

Compared to 2019, Wildau said 40,000 more kids were enrolled in Medicaid then pre-pandemic times. Roughly the same amount as the population of Hobbs.

Wildau said this is an example of social safety net programs working.

Before the pandemic, Wildau said the state was starting to build on a fruitful path for children in New Mexico.

“Before the pandemic hit, New Mexico was gaining speed on a path to prosperity. A path where we were really starting to build great opportunities for our kids and families to realize their potential.”

These opportunities included passing a tax cut for 70% of families with children, improved high education affordability and access, new early childhood department and funding source for early childhood education programs, minimum wage increase, increases for teachers pay, and crucial COVID-19 relief funds.

Wildau said it’s crucial for the state to focus on racial and ethnic equality in policy due to the high number of children of color in the state.

“We know most kids in New Mexico are still children of color. We’re ahead in the nation in having a child population where children of color are the majority. Children of color tend to face more barriers to good health and well-being.”

Amber Wallin continued on this point by saying many children in the state are still facing health and other challenges due to COVID, but that the data also reflects that race, gender, and income inequality are still present throughout our state. 

“Those desperate impacts highlight the fact that equality of opportunity is not something that will just happen, it has to be the product of policies and programs that work together that create a foundation for all of New Mexico’s kids and families and communities to have an equality change to strive for success,” Wallin said.

Wallin continued by saying the state’s response to the pandemic has been a success story due to the crisis responses being focused on child and family economic security and help.

“In order to ensure that all families can recover and really thrive in the future. Public policy must address those pressing challenges and barriers that are faced by too many of our children and families, and communities, particularly our communities of color,” Wallin said.

She went on to say that during this legislative session, NM Voices for Children will continue to focus on public policies that prioritize families, such as economic assistance for families, strategic investments against food insecurity, and continue to support an early childhood care system.