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NM ranks dead last in child well-being

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NM ranks dead last in child well-being

Christina Holt/News-Sun

Yet again, New Mexico is ranked last.

This time it’s for the overall well-being of New Mexican children.

The National and New Mexico 2023 Kids Count Data Book analyzes how children and families are doing regarding economic well-being, education, health and family and community, creating a snapshot in time of our county, state and country with those metrics.

Unfortunately, New Mexico ranked 50th for education, 49th for the economic well-being of children, 44th for health and 48th for family and community.

But, how did Lea County perform?

Lea County ranks almost the middle of New Mexico counties at 14 out of 33 for the overall well-being of children. This ranking places Lea County above 19 other counties, but out of the top 10.

Lea County experienced an overall increase in population of 2,384 people — including an increase in children ages birth through 17 of 895, compared to the 2022 data.

An increase in population can have negative effects on an already burdened system, especially when it comes to resources for children.

Lea County is considered a “childcare desert” meaning there is less than one vacancy for every three children needing childcare services according to Sara Mickelson, deputy secretary of the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department, previously told the News-Sun.

About 71 percent of Lea County’s children ages three and four are not in school, ranking the county 28th in the state. This is 12 percent higher than the state average.

“Parents are so frustrated. It’s difficult for parents looking for daycare. They call crying because they have no-where else to go,” Laugh and Learn Daycare Supervisor Natalie Marin told the News-Sun.

Early childhood experiences have significant effects on a child’s health and future productivity, starting from the ages of 3 and 4, according to the New Mexico Kids Count Data Book.

Not only does attending school at an early age impact a child, but so does attending school through the 12th grade.

Listed below are the percentage of students who were chronically absent at each school district in Lea County:

• Eunice Municipal Schools – 25 percent

• Hobbs Municipal Schools – 36 percent

• Jal Public Schools – 40 percent

• Lovington Public Schools – 15 percent

• Tatum Municipal Schools – 30 percent

• The State of New Mexico – 39 percent

School leaders say students get behind in school work when they are consistently absent, and it becomes more challenging to get caught up.

“When a kid knows they didn’t turn in an assignment and they’re going get a zero, they give up. They think, ‘Why even try? I’m going to fail anyway,’” Lovington High School Principal Trey Williams previously told the News-Sun.

Poor attendance rates can be a predictor of whether students will drop out or graduate high school, according to the N.M. Data Book.

Listed below are the student dropout percentages for each school district in Lea County:

• Eunice Municipal Schools – 21 percent

• Hobbs Municipal Schools – 7 percent

• Jal Public Schools – 6 percent

• Lovington Public Schools – 6 percent

• Tatum Municipal Schools – 3 percent

• The State of New Mexico – 7 percent

According to the N.M. Data Book, when teens are neither in school nor employed, they are at a higher risk of experiencing hardships as they transition into adulthood.

Around 12 percent of Lea County’s teens are neither in school nor working, placing the county 19th, of 33, in the state. The rate overall in New Mexico is 1 percent less than Lea County.

When students graduate high school, they are more inclined to pursue further education and training, make healthier choices and engage in fewer risky behaviors, according to the National 2023 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

One of those risky behaviors is teen pregnancy. The teen birth rate for Lea County is 34.5 percent, which is 15.3 percent higher than the state average.

Teen mothers may be less likely to graduate high school, receive adequate prenatal care and achieve financial stability.

Also, Lea County ranks 32nd in the state — at 21 percent, with New Mexico at 12 percent — where the head of household lacks a high school diploma.

Educated parents are more capable of ensuring financial stability and security for their children, the study found.

Lea County is ranked second in the state for having only 4 percent of children living with families without secure employment. In contrast, New Mexico rated higher at 11 percent.

Families not working full-time and year-round have a greater risk of living in poverty.

About 18 percent of Lea County’s children are living in poverty, which is 7 percent lower than the state average.

Children living in poverty face limited access to essential resources necessary for their overall development and success, according to National Data Book.

Parents who earn low incomes are less likely to have access to health insurance for themselves or their families, according to the N.M. Data Book.

Almost 11 percent of Lea County’s children do not have health insurance — which is 3.9 percent higher than the state average.

Childhood health issues can have a profound impact on a child’s academic performance and future well-being, according to the National Data Book.

Another issue contributing to poverty is the high housing costs families are subjected to.

Unfortunately, Lea County ranked 14 of 33 in the state, coming in at 37 percent while New Mexico has 43 percent of families living with high housing costs.

When families spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, they face difficulties affording necessities such as groceries or childcare services, according to the N.M. Data Book.

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