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"Forget the Rest" blog

New Mexico’s Economic & Social Health:
Existing Policies Are Failing

Damon Hill, Fatima Portugal, and Greg Mello, October 20, 2005 

Overall: At the Bottom, More or Less

  • New Mexico ranked 50th (last) overall for social health policies two years in a row (2002-2003; Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy).[1]

Poverty, Income Disparity, and Average Income: Almost the Worst

  • New Mexico’s Poverty Rate and State Ranking 1969-2004 (U.S. Census Bureau)







Poverty Rate






State Ranking in terms of Poverty Rate  (51 = lowest)






  • Childhood Poverty Rate and State Ranking 1989-2004 (U.S. Census Bureau)







Poverty Rate






State Ranking in terms of Poverty Rate  (51 = lowest)






  • The wealth gap between the poorest fifth and the richest fifth has grown from an 8.5 ratio (late 1970s) to a 9.8 ratio (late 1990s), to the third-highest income disparity among the states.[7]
  • New Mexico’s per capita personal income rank relative to the states and the District of Columbia has gone from 40th in 1929 up to a peak of 34th in 1959 and then down to 48th in 2004.[8]  See graph on following page.  

Education: “F” – and Getting Worse

  • New Mexico’s rural schools ranked second in the country as “most urgently in need of help” according to The Rural School and Community Trust (2005).[9]  New Mexico was 16th in terms of urgency in 2003 – a drop of 14 places in national rank in just two years.
  • New Mexico has the highest rate of rural families with school-age children living below the federal poverty line of any state (23.3%; The Rural School and Community Trust).[10]   
  • New Mexico’s high school graduation rate (65%) ranks near the bottom in the nation (39th) according to a Center for American Progress study.[11]
  • New Mexico’s fourth grade students ranked 49th in reading and 49th in math on the nation’s report card (NAEP). Eight graders ranked 50th in reading and 49th in math.[12]
  • New Mexico was the “dumbest” state for three years in a row (2002-2004) in a Morgan Quitno Press national ranking.[13]
  • New Mexico’s national rank in five key indicators of educational performance fell significantly from 1992 to 2002 (see table on separate page below).

Child Welfare: Nearly the worst  

  • New Mexico ranks last in the country for the percentage of children living with a parent who lacks a secure year-round job (34%; Annie E. Casey Foundation “Kids Count” report).[14]
  • New Mexico ranks second to last for the percentage of children living in families headed by a single parent (36%; Annie E. Casey Foundation “Kids Count” report).[15]
  • New Mexico ranks 46th in overall child well-being, according to the 2005 “Kids Count” report (released July, 2005).[16]

Morbidity, Crime, and Despair: Terrible

  • New Mexico has fallen from 22nd (1993) to the 48th (2005) healthiest state over the last 12 years in a Morgan Quitno Press annual ranking of the fifty states.[17]
  • New Mexico’s violent crime rate has risen, driving its national rank down from 40th (2003) to 47th (2005) according to the United Health Foundation.[18]
  • New Mexico ties with Nevada for the highest rate of violent deaths, including homicide and suicide, per capita (New Mexico Health Policy Commission).[19]
  • New Mexico has had the highest rate of total drug overdose deaths in the nation since the 1990's; that rate has steadily increased since 1994 (New Mexico Health Policy Commission).[20]
  • New Mexico’s accidental death rate was 65.6% higher than the U.S. rate (2002) and the suicide rate was 75% higher than the U.S. rate (2002) according a New Mexico Health Policy Commission report.[21]


[1]Garcia, Patricia. “State’s social health ailing, study finds,” The Albuquerque Tribune, 17 November 2003, sec. A-8.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau.  “Poverty in the United State - Changes Between the Censuses,” Bureau of the Census Statistical Brief, 1993, (10 October 2005).

[3] U.S. Census Bureau. “State Profile: New Mexico,” Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1999,  (13 October 2005)

[4] U.S. Census Bureau.  “Table: Percent of People Below Poverty Level,” American Community Survey 2004 Rankings Tables, (13 October 2005).

[5] Data for 1989-1998 obtained from U.S. Census Bureau. “Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates,” 6 December 2004 (17 October 2005).

[6] U.S. Census Bureau. “Rankings Tables 2001-2004,” American Community Survey, 2005. (13 October 2005).

[7] Bernstein, Jared et al. “Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities/ Economic and Policy Institute, 2000.

[8] Robert L. Brown, G. Andrew Bernat, Jr., and Adrienne T. Pilot, Comprehensive Revision of State Personal Income, Preliminary Estimates for 2003, Revised Estimates for 1969–2002: Table D. Per Capita Personal Income, Personal Income, and Population for States and Regions, 2002–2003, May 2004. (7 October 2005).

[9] Johnson, Jerry and Marty Strange. “New Mexico State Report,” Why Rural Matters: The Facts About Rural Education in the 50 States,  The Rural School and Community Trust,  2005 and 2003, (17 October 2005).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Renewing our Schools, Securing our Future: A National Taskforce on Public Education. August 2005. Education: The State We’re In, An Education Report Card for the State of New Mexico. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress and Institute for American’s Future.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Morgan Quitno Press, Results of the 2004 Smartest State Award, 28 September 2004, (6 October 2005). Rankings based on an analysis of 21 factors including but not limited to Public High School Graduation Rate, Percent of Public School Fourth/Eight Graders Proficient or Better in Writing/Math, Average Class Size in Public Elementary/Secondary Schools). 

[14] Hoffman, Leslie. “New Mexico has highest rate of children living in poverty,” Santa Fe Free New Mexican, 3 June 2004, posted on website  (17 October 2005).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Gutierrez Krueger, Joline.  “State ranked 46th for child welfare,” Albuquerque Tribune, 27 July 2005. (18 October 2005).

[17] Morgan Quitno Press, Results of the 2005 Healthiest State Award, 7 March 2005,, (6 October 2005).

[18] United Health Foundation.  “America's Health: State Health Rankings - 2004 Edition: Table 2,” 2004, (7October 2005).

[19] New Mexico Health Policy Commission. January 2005. Quick Facts. p. 12.

[20] Ibid., p. 10.

[21] Ibid., p. 5.

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