New Mexico: Here, children are the winners of high inflation

In the southwestern United States, New Mexico is something like the ugly duckling among swans. To the east, Texas, which is just bubbling with billions of oil, borders the nearly square state of northern Colorado. Only Arizona in the west also has its problems, but next door lies the dazzling California.

And in between: New Mexico. Here, 16.4 percent of the approximately 2.1 million inhabitants live on food stamps because they cannot afford food. The median income here is just under $ 52,000 a year, ranking 45th among the 50 U.S. states. Only in one state do fewer people have a broadband connection to the Internet – and nowhere else do so few young people finish school successfully.

That leads to the next problem: With 5.3 percent, unemployment here is well above the U.S. average of 3.6 percent. In general, only 69 percent of those who could work – also a place far behind in the national comparison. Women in particular often stay home because the cost of childcare is enormous: Families have to spend $ 720 or 18.3 percent of median income per capita. month per. child. That is three times the US average.

The latest statistics are no longer surprising: 17 percent of New Mexico’s residents live in poverty – the third highest number among U.S. states.

Republicans and Democrats are cutting tuition fees

All the bad news is now leading to more innovations: First, the ruling Democrats under Gov. Michelle Grisham and the opposition Republicans have been working together in recent months. And second, they have designed a program that is unique in its radical nature, not just in the United States.

First Action: All 29 public colleges and universities in the state have been free since February for all beginners who do not already have a bachelor’s degree. Although there have been exceptions before, freedom now applies to everyone: young people who have just finished high school, adults who want to retrain, immigrants regardless of their immigration status. The latter is important, for in the south New Mexico borders on “old” Mexico. Almost half of the residents are therefore first- or late-generation immigrants.

“We need to get students back in the classroom so they can get certificates and degrees,” Senator Gay Kernan told Bloomberg. The Republican voted for the program because it also funds manual training. Four years ago, the state was punished by a judge because the education system systematically favored the poorer. This needs to change now.

Kindergartens free for at least one year

But free universities are just one building block New Mexico wants to get on with. Grisham starts much earlier. Kindergartens and childcare have also been free since May and at least until the end of June 2023. So at an average cost of $ 720 per month, parents can save up to $ 10,000 per child. But that’s not what the state government is all about, because many mothers stay home anyway because they can not afford the care.

With state aid, they should now be able to apply for jobs and be able to work again. “If we do not get more people into work, we will also miss the incredible talent of the women and men we have in this state,” said Elizabeth Groginsky, head of New Mexico’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department. Her department has only existed since 2019. At that time, Grisham gave her $ 300 million for her work, and the budget is expected to grow to $ 4.5 billion by 2026.

Billions in oil fund social programs

For despite all the economic difficulties, New Mexico currently has more than enough money. In the southeast corner of the square, the Permian Basin juts out of Texas and into the state. This is where the United States’ huge oil and gas reserves lie, which the country has exploited more and more in recent years. Oil production in the country has more than doubled since 2008. Natural gas production has increased by two thirds.

Along with the recent rise in oil and gas prices – fuel has risen 32 percent since January – New Mexico’s tax revenue is therefore bubbling up. 42 percent of the budget is now funded by the energy industry. That was $ 5.3 billion last year, more than twice as much as in 2016. But politicians from both major parties have no illusions that things will remain that way. “We need to be smart about investing oil revenues and making changes that last for generations,” said Derrick Lente, New Mexico House Representative.

How New Mexico wants to make its money in the future is not yet clear. The only thing that counts for both Democratic and Republican MPs is that this can only be achieved if their children are better educated. A start would be if the most talented among them corrected another statistic: New Mexico has one of the lowest percentages of public companies in the United States.

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