ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's child poverty rate rose slightly and continues to rank near the bottom nationally despite improvements in the state's economy, a child-advocacy group said Wednesday.
The 2019 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book, released by New Mexico Voices for Children, found 26 percent of the state's children in 2018 remained at or below the federal poverty line. That places the state back to 49th nationally in child poverty, where it ranked in previous studies.
A similar study last year showed New Mexico ranked 48th.
In addition, the report found 30 percent of the state's Hispanic children were living in poverty, as were 41 percent of New Mexico's Native American children.
"We're clearly not adequately providing (opportunities) for children of color, who make up the largest segment of our child population," New Mexico Voices for Children executive director James Jimenez said. "When we're OK with the fact that so many of our children lack the opportunities they need to be successful, we really paint a dire picture for the future."
The report also said the number of children living in poverty over a decade in the state rose by 5,000.
The findings come days before the New Mexico Legislature is set to begin a 30-day session where issues around child poverty and education are expected to dominate. However, it remains unclear if state lawmakers can bridge their differences on expanding early childhood education programs and how the state should pay for anti-poverty initiatives.
State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said lawmakers recently passed a series of bills aimed at tackling child poverty that haven't had a chance to trickle down yet. For example, the Legislature passed a bill he sponsored around battling child hunger in schools by providing more meals and another one creating an Early Childhood Education Department.
But Padilla said lawmakers still have more work to do.
"We need to expand and fully fund broadband access across the state," Padilla said. "That would open the doors to job creation, expanded educational opportunities, and more health care options in rural areas."
New Mexico Voices for Children is recommending that the state adopt stricter measures against payday loan companies and expand certain tax credits, among other proposals.
Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press' race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/russcontreras