Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Twenty Nine Percent

The message coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement (including Unoccupy Albuquerque) is that our current economic system continues to foster major inequities between the very wealthy at the top and the rest of the population. Surely by now you've heard about the 1 percent versus the 99 percent.  

This reality hits home in New Mexico.  A few days ago, New Mexico Voices for Children (NMVC) released its annual Kids Count report, just in time for the start of the start of this year's session of the State Legislature.

The report said the number of children living in poverty in our state over past decade (2000-2010) has increased on a steady pace. 

"More than half of our children—250,800 (a number three times the population of Santa Fe or twice that of Las Cruces)—live in poverty or in low-income families that have trouble making ends meet," said the report.

The figure that stood out from the report was 29%. That means nearly one out of every three children in New Mexico lives in poverty. Click here to download the report in PDF format.  (If you look carefully on the graph on the left on page 5, you'll see a huge increase from 2008 to 2010)

New Mexico has an overall poverty rate that is higher than that of the United States as a whole. Our state currently ranks 46th among the states in terms of children living in poverty—which means only four other states have a higher percent of children in poverty. In eight New Mexico counties, more than one-third of children live in poverty.

"Over the past decade,New Mexico has been consistently ranked in the national KIDS COUNT data book in the bottom five states in terms of the percent of its children living in poverty," said the report.  

The situation is worsened by the economic crisis that has gripped our country and our state. "New Mexico is facing a slow recovery from the Great Recession, facing budget shortfalls that have led to cutbacks in education, health care and Medicaid, early child care and education, unemployment benefits, and other programs and services meant to boost child well-being and help families struggling with income and asset loss," said the report.

Bu Kids Count Director Christine Hollis says the solution is to create a funding mechanism to support early care and education. "That's why we're looking at trying to push in this legislative session for a resolution to put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 General Election ballot that would take a very small amount of money from our very large land grant permanent fund here in the state to help fund early childhood care and education," said Hollis.

Hollis said New Mexico Voices for Children is proposing to take about  $150-million from the state's Land Grant Fund, which is currently around $10 billion, to create the fund. We might get to vote on this if the NMVC is able to get this on a future ballot.  Stay tuned.

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