RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has the highest child food insecurity and the lowest percentage of students graduating on time nationally, according to a new report from a global children’s advocacy group.
The report by the Save the Children released Tuesday found that the American Southwestern state had the highest child food insecurity rate at 24.1% — well about the national average of 17%.
Food insecurity is a household-level economic and social condition of limited access to adequate food.
Using data from 2017, the report found that New Mexico had the highest percentage of students not graduating on time (28.9%). The latest numbers released by the state show that New Mexico’s graduation rate has slightly increased by four percentage points since, but remains well below the national average.
“The Land of Inopportunity: Closing the Childhood Equity Gap for America’s Kids” report found that children in the nation’s most disadvantaged counties and census areas die at rates up to five times of children in the same state. Children in those regions also are 14 times as likely to drop out of school and are three times as likely to lack healthy food and consistent meals, the report said.
The report examined 2,600 counties using federal data from 2018 and earlier.
The report also found that New Mexico had one of the highest rates of violent childhood deaths, as measured by homicides and suicides among children aged 0 to 19. The state’s violent childhood death rate was 12.8 per 100,000 residents, according to the group. Only Alaska and South Dakota — two other states with sizable Native American populations — had a higher rate.
Mark K. Shriver, senior vice president of U.S. programs & advocacy at Save the Children, said the findings should serve as a wake-up call for political leaders to battle poverty in New Mexico.
He praised Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and outgoing state Sen. John Arthur Smith for pushing for the expansion of early education programs in the state. Smith lost his bid for re-election Tuesday to a more liberal Democratic challenger.
“We have to make sure those dollars stay intact,” Shriver said. “Obviously, there are competing demands here and we are in a crisis.”
Madelyn “Maddie” Brace, 21, hopes the state will expand early childhood programs. A mother of a 4-month-old girl named Elora, her boyfriend’s hours have been reduced to 22 hours a week, and he’s working on getting unemployment.
The family lives in a southeastern Albuquerque, New Mexico, neighborhood where they hear gunshots regularly at night. “It happens so much now that it doesn’t bother us anymore, but it should,” Brace said. “New Mexico is not the best place to raise a child.”
Allen Sánchez, president of the nonprofit group CHI St. Joseph’s Children, which has long advocated for the expansion of early childhood programs in the state, said the report backs up what advocates have been shouting for decades about child poverty in New Mexico.
“We’ve been offer solution for years,” Sánchez said. “The time for talking is over.”
Sánchez said advocates will renew their push next year to seeks a state Constitutional amendment to take money for the state’s permanent land fund to expand early childhood education programs.
Associated Press journalist Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras