By Rebecca Dow, New Mexico Representative, District 38
Earlier this month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual “Kids Count” report on the status of child well-being in each state. The news for New Mexico was disheartening.
While our state showed improvement on most measures, we are not keeping up with other states. Once again, we came in at 49th overall, placing ahead of just one state, Mississippi.
Reports like this one motivated me to start AppleTree Educational Center in Truth and Consequences back in 1999. I believed New Mexico could do better, and I felt that focusing on early childhood education was the key to helping our state’s children overcome any circumstances.
AppleTree serves hundreds of families with children prenatal through twenty-four in Sierra County each year. Our evidence-based programs have positively impacted many key health and wellbeing indicators for our county. More kids are entering school ready, avoiding risky behavior, graduating on-time, and going to college. Yet in 2015, Sierra County become the poorest county in the state.
My organization and others like it do everything we can to give kids a good start in life, and I am proud of our work. But I also recognize that we will not see the results of our efforts for another generation, and there are urgent challenges facing New Mexico that we must fix now.
After working in the field of early childhood and family support services for the past 24 years, I am convinced that until we address the root causes of poverty in New Mexico, we will not be able to address the effects of poverty. Our state will continue to struggle until we strengthen our economy and improve the quality of life for all New Mexicans.
Too many families in our state are living on the edge. 141,000 children in New Mexico – 29 percent – live in poverty. There are 22,659 families in our state that do not have a parent in the workforce. In 2014, 111,000 kids experienced one instance of food insecurity meaning that for at least one day that year, their families were not sure they would be able to put food on their tables.
Meeting the full needs of children obliges us to create healthy families, safe environments, and thriving communities. We cannot build a better future for our children unless we create more economic opportunities for New Mexicans.
Much of this work will require common-sense policies to take the shackles off the state’s economy. For example, our tax code is a mess. Its industry carve-outs benefit the big guys while our mom and pop businesses are stuck paying the bill. We also have too many redundant regulations and overlapping governing authorities that unnecessarily increase the cost of doing business in New Mexico.
Changing New Mexico’s economic climate requires us to make every operation of state government efficient and effective. To increase business activity in our state, we need to make it easier to do business.
Fortunately, there are some programs already in place to help businesses grow and thrive. Efforts like the Local Economic Development Act and the Job Training Incentive Program can help businesses train new workers, expand operations, and help New Mexicans create their own opportunities.
Over the next few weeks, I will highlight some of these programs, explain what they do, and provide contact information so you can learn more about what they have to offer. Many communities have used these programs to create jobs and new energy in their area, and I know we can duplicate some of these successes here.
These programs are a start. But if we want to change the long-term fortunes of our state, we must shift our focus on policies that will increase hope and opportunity. Too often we center on treating the outcomes of poverty rather than curing poverty itself. Now is the time to take strong actions and improve New Mexico’s economy before we fall further behind. We cannot wait another twenty years for things to get better.