New Mexico: A tale of tourism and severe child poverty
Vast white sand dunes.
Clear blue skies.
And the highest rate of child poverty in the nation?
New Mexico's tourism campaign, "New Mexico True," promises "adventure that feeds the soul."
But Albuquerque-based St. Joseph’s Children, a nonprofit affiliated with Catholic Health Initiatives, wants to bring attention to some of the state's more pressing issues. Allen Sanchez runs the organization, which has the largest home-visiting program in the state.
He told NPR's Morning Edition:
How can we live knowing that this is the state that has the highest rate of children in poverty? The third highest in hunger? The worst graduation rate? All of this is connected and if we do nothing then we're failing and we're failing ourselves.
The advocacy group has started a parody campaign, "https://vimeo.com/user47802816">New Mexico Truth," with videos that show similar footage, but with a different message:
Thirty percent of New Mexico's children live in poverty - the highest rate in the United States. One in four kids lives in high-poverty areas. And the state has rates higher than the national average of teen births and child and teen deaths, according to the 2015 KIDS COUNT in New Mexico data book.
According to The Sante Fe New Mexican:
The results were expected, to some extent, because New Mexico’s overall ranking in the national Kids Count Data Book has been between 43rd and 50th since 2000. The state has never ranked higher than 40th since the national report, which is produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, was first issued in 1990.
Sanchez is pushing to increase early childhood programs. He told Morning Edition:
In New Mexico we have an epidemic. So if you imagine a potter, and while the pot is being formed, while that clay is wet, that's like the child's brain as it's spinning and they're forming that clay. But in New Mexico before that clay can harden we like to poke holes in it. So imagine this beautiful pot, holes being poked in it. Those are adverse child experiences.
And while you can probably guess that no one is happy about the status of New Mexico's kids, not everyone agrees with Sanchez's methods.
Monique Jacobson is New Mexico's former tourism secretary. Now she runs the state's welfare agency. She told Morning Edition:
I found it to be heartbreaking. I do think it's critical that we draw attention to what's going on with our children and our families here in New Mexico, but I think there's a way to do it that's actionable and that's positive and unfortunately I think they did it in a way that was destructive and divisive. It's critical that we find ways to diversify our economy here in New Mexico and that's something that the tourism industry — particularly the New Mexico True campaign — has had incredible success doing.
But Sanchez tells NPR: "New Mexico Truth is just getting started." He plans to roll out another series of ads this summer.
You can listen to the full story on Morning Edition here.