Racial and Ethnic Bias in New Mexico Drug Law Enforcement


A Summary of Preliminary Findings and Recommendations

by ACLU-NM, Drug Policy Alliance, NM Voices for Children, and Young Women United
July 2017

Download the policy brief (Updated Nov. 2017; 4 pages; pdf)

For more than four decades, governments have used harsh criminal punishments as the primary tool to address the possession, use, and sales of illegal substances. Under the guise of the War on Drugs, complex laws and regulations have been created to penalize drug use and the possession of controlled substances at the federal, state, and local levels. These drug laws, along with the interlocking and often contradictory law enforcement systems, have resulted in disparate impacts for people of color.

This brief report summarizes an inquiry by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the Drug Policy Alliance, New Mexico Voices for Children, and Young Women United into drug law enforcement in Bernalillo County, which is home of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), the largest detention facility in New Mexico. Specifically, our research analyzed the racial demographics of people arrested and booked on drug law violations (possession and distribution) within the county. Race and ethnicity data collection and reporting procedures were also explored.

In conducting this investigation, we acquired a limited set of arrest data from three law enforcement agencies operating within the county: the Albuquerque Police Department, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, and the New Mexico State Police. We also gained access to a year’s worth of booking data from MDC.

Preliminary Findings

In line with national trends, our preliminary research found that people of color in Bernalillo County are arrested and booked into jail on drug charges at disproportionately high rates, despite having similar rates of drug use1 and sales2 as white people. This is true for both men and women jailed in MDC. Furthermore, the authors believe that problems with data collection likely mask the true rates of disparity.


Our research also revealed serious problems with the public’s ability to access demographic information on people arrested in Bernalillo County and throughout New Mexico. The state Department of Public Safety instructs New Mexico law enforcement agencies to follow federal procedural guidelines issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. New Mexico’s case tracking system, however, does not meet current federal guidelines for race and ethnicity data collection, and the state does not report race and ethnicity figures related to arrests to the federal government. This lack of transparency has made it difficult to draw precise conclusions about the extent of racial and ethnic bias in drug arrests within the county.


Based on these preliminary findings, we recommend that state and local governments take the following steps:

1. Improve data collection within New Mexico’s criminal justice system overall, with special attention to racial and ethnic identifiers.

• Ensure arrest reporting in New Mexico meets federal guidelines for recording race and ethnicity.3 Support law enforcement agencies and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety in operationalizing the inclusion of these data in their record keeping. Develop data entry instructions and train officers so that race and ethnicity information are collected and reported in a uniform manner.

• Review and revise operating procedures for the collection of race and ethnicity data at booking and other non-arrest data collection points in the criminal justice system.

2. Invest in evidence-based interventions at the local and state levels to reduce racially disparate treatment and overreliance on incarceration, while improving public safety throughout our communities.

Additionally, data collection regarding gender expression and sexual orientation, which are linked to unique forms of disparate treatment, must be explored further. Until we achieve genuine transparency regarding the demographics of people within New Mexico’s criminal justice system, we will be hard-pressed to find better approaches to dealing with problems associated with drug possession, use, and sales within our state.

It is our hope that this research summary will inform policies that support the health and well-being of individuals in Bernalillo County and throughout New Mexico and increase equity in drug law enforcement. For more details about our investigation, please contact Jessica Gelay at the Drug Policy Alliance: jgelay@drugpolicy.org.


1. United States. Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. 2015. Table 1.23 B.
2. Ingraham, Christopher. “White people are more likely to deal drugs, but black people are more likely to get arrested for it.” Washington Post. September 30, 2014.
3. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform Crime Reporting Program. National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) User Manual. By Law Enforcement Support Section and Crime Statistics Management Unit. 2013. 111-112.

Download the policy brief (Updated Nov. 2017; 4 pages; pdf)

DPA report-logos

Raising the State Minimum Wage

Who it would help, how much they would benefit, and why indexing it to inflation is necessary

by Gerard Bradley, MA
Download this report (Jan 2017; 12 pages; pdf)
Link to the fact sheet

Raising the minimum wage is an effective strategy for reducing poverty in New Mexico, particularly given the erosion of its purchasing power since it was last raised in 2009. In the legislative session that begins in January 2017, New Mexico lawmakers should enact legislation to raise the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour by 2021, if not sooner. This would establish a minimum wage that is roughly 60 percent of the state’s median wage. While this level for the minimum wage could not be considered a living wage, thousands of families would benefit—as would the state’s economy as that money was spent at local businesses.

In recent years the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces have acted to raise the minimum wage in their communities above that of the state. If the state raised the state’s minimum wage to $12.50 an hour by 2021 in the upcoming state legislative session, it would be the first minimum wage increase for the whole state since the present minimum wage of $7.50 took effect in January of 2009. This report assumes an increase in five $1.00 increments, from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour in 2017 and to $9.50 an hour in 2018 and so forth, up to $12.50 an hour by 2021. In 2017, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), there will be about 795,000 workers statewide making an hourly wage in New Mexico, rising to 825,000 in 2021. The EPI estimates that in 2021, 225,500 (or 27 percent) of those 825,000 workers would be directly helped by raising the minimum to $12.50 an hour. An additional 22,900 workers would be indirectly affected—their wages would rise due to ‘spillover effects’ from raising the wage to $12.50. The total number of workers affected would be 248,400 or about 30 percent of the 825,000 hourly workers. This report describes the characteristics of these low-wage workers and looks at the EPI’s estimates of the wage impacts of raising the state’s minimum wage.

Min-Wage-2017-FigureIThe Necessity of Indexing the Minimum Wage to Inflation

The New Mexico minimum wage was last increased in January 2009, to $7.50 an hour. That $7.50 an hour wage was not indexed to inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index and therefore its purchasing power has declined with rising prices. The wage will have lost almost one quarter (23.3 percent) of its value by 2021. That is because the Consumer Price Index is expected to increase by about 2 percent for each year between 2016 and 2021. Figure I shows that the $7.50 an hour wage (show by the light orange line) had declined in value to $6.52 an hour in 2016 (the dark orange line), and will decline further, to $5.80 in 2021, even with inflation rising by a fairly low 2 percent per year. A proposal to raise the minimum wage in stages to $12.50 by 2021 is shown in the blue line.


Summary of the Impact of Increasing the Minimum Wage to $12.50

Figure II-A summarizes the impact that raising the minimum wage to $12.50 in 2021 would have on the New Mexico workforce. About 225,500 workers will be directly affected, meaning that these workers will see their wages rise as the new minimum wage exceeds their current pay. Indirectly affected workers, estimated at 22,900, have a wage rate just above the new minimum wage. Indirectly affected workers will receive a raise as employer pay scales are adjusted upward to reflect the new minimum wage.

Figure II-B shows that increasing the minimum wage to $12.50 would add a total of almost $309.6 million a year to the paychecks of workers at or near the minimum wage. On average, the workers affected by the increase will receive an annual wage increase of $1,246. Directly affected workers will receive an increase of $1,349 while indirectly affected workers will receive an annual increase of $244. There will also be slight positive impacts on the state’s gross domestic product and a slight increase in total employment.

Children in Families with Minimum Wage Workers

Figure III shows that in 2021 there will be 151,113 children living in households with directly and indirectly affected workers, or 28 percent of all children. Clearly, low-wage work affects a significant share of New Mexico’s children. Also, the prevalence of low-wage work in New Mexico inhibits household formation, marriage, and having children because minimum wage workers don’t have the financial resources to do so.

Impact of the Increase on Women and Men

More women workers than men will benefit by raising the state minimum wage. Figure IV-A shows that about 140,700 women and 107,600 men would benefit from the higher minimum wage. About 35 percent of all women hourly workers and 25 percent of all male hourly workers would be helped by the increase. This is despite the fact that there are more male (423,100) than female (401,800) hourly workers.

Despite these odds, men will receive a slightly larger annual wage increase than women, as Figure IV-B shows. While men will earn $1,300 more, on average, women will earn $1,200 more. This reflects the different mix of industries and occupations in which men and women work, as well as the fact that the average wage increase for male workers who are affected is slightly higher than for female workers.

Impact by Age

Most of the workers who will be helped by raising the minimum wage are adult workers, not teenagers. A common, but erroneous, perception about minimum wage workers is that they are by and large teenagers. Of the total 248,400 workers impacted by the minimum wage increase, only about 8.8 percent (21,800) are teenagers (younger than 20 years old). Figure V-A shows that about 66 percent of the affected workers (165,000) are age 25 and older, with 34 percent (84,800) over age 40. Even more telling, a significant proportion, 14.6 percent (36,500), are seniors―workers older than 55. One might visualize a greeter in a big box superstore, a senior working to make ends meet.

Figure V-B also shows that, of the 28,300 teenager in the workforce, 77 percent would be affected by the increase in the minimum wage. This is to be expected, since teenage workers will be at the lower end of the wage spectrum. Of workers aged 20 and older, an estimated 226,600 (28.4 percent) out of a total of 796,600 workers will be affected.

Impact by Ethnicity

Figure VI-A shows the distribution of workers helped by the minimum wage increase by ethnicity. Hispanic workers are by far the largest group of those helped by the minimum wage increase because they are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs. Although Hispanics comprise about 45 percent of hourly workers, they make up 56 percent of those who would be helped by raising the minimum wage. Conversely, while 40 percent of hourly workers are Non-Hispanic White, they make up just 30 percent of those helped by the minimum wage increase.

About 38 percent of the Hispanic workforce would be affected by a minimum wage increase, while only 29 percent of the non-Hispanic White workforce would be affected. Hispanics would also see the largest wage increase (Figure VI-B).

Impact by Marital and Family Status

Figure VII-A shows the distribution of those helped by a minimum wage increase by marital status. Almost 52 percent of affected workers are unmarried, with no children. This may be because low-wage workers are not able to afford the cost of marriage and children. A significant share of low-wage workers are married, but have no children (18.4 percent). Again, this may be because these workers feel they cannot afford to have children. They would also see the largest average wage increase (Figure VII-B).

Impact by Family Income Level

Another popular misconception about minimum wage workers is that they live in upper-income families and are merely teenagers working for entertainment income. This is clearly not the case. By and large, workers impacted by raising the minimum wage are living in low-income families. Figure VIII-A shows that 28 percent (70,000) of workers benefitting (directly and indirectly) from the minimum wage increase live in families with a family income less than $20,000 per year. Another 30 percent (74,000) of low-wage workers live in families with income between $20,000 and $40,000, so 58 percent of workers impacted by the minimum wage increase are in families with income less than $40,000.

Impact by Industry Sector

Figure IX-A provides an overview of workers by type of industry. As expected, the retail (17.5 percent) and leisure and hospitality (21 percent) sectors together account for a significant share (38.5 percent) of workers affected by raising the minimum wage. It is somewhat surprising to note that the education and health care sector accounts for 26.4 percent (65,700) of affected workers. Clearly, a significant share of workers in the health care field, the fastest growing sector in New Mexico’s slowly growing economy, are low-wage workers.

Impact by Occupation of Worker

Figure X shows the distribution of affected workers by occupation. Workers in the service (90,400 or 36.4 percent) and sales (36,600 or 15 percent) occupations account for 41.4 percent of the total. This is consistent with the large share of service occupation workers in the health care industry. There were 16.2 percent (40,200) of affected workers in the office and administrative services occupations. It is surprising that there are 28,600 affected workers in the professional, business and science occupations, reflecting the seepage of part-time and contingent work into all parts of the occupational structure.

Impact by Hours Worked

Another hardy myth about minimum wage workers is that they are mostly part-time workers. Figure XI-A shows that only 10 percent (24,900) of affected workers work less than 19 hours per week. Almost 32 percent of low-wage workers (78,200) work between 20 and 34 hours per week, while almost 59 percent (145,200) are full-time, working more than 35 hours per week. Many low-wage workers would welcome working more hours on a consistent schedule so that they don’t need to cobble together a subsistence living from more than one job. The fact that almost 90 percent of minimum wage workers work more than 20 hours per week is significant.

Impact by Educational Level

Figure XII-A shows that, as could be expected, low-wage workers are concentrated on the lower rungs of the educational ladder. Workers with less than a high school education (56,400 workers or 23 percent) and those with only a high school diploma (77,400 workers or 31 percent) accounted for about 54 percent of total directly and indirectly affected workers. It is disturbing to note that there were 94,100 workers with some college who will be affected by raising the minimum wage for almost 38 percent of the total. It is important to note that, due to the occupational structure of the state, workers with more education may end up working in low-wage jobs. In other words, more education is not a panacea for low-wage work.

Impact by Ownership of Employer

Although it is not surprising, Figure XIII-A shows that more than 80 percent of low-wage workers are in the for-profit sector. It may be an eye-opener, though, that 14 percent of low-wage workers are in the public sector. Certainly, the perception is that government workers are highly paid. By and large, that is not so when education and job tenure are taken into account.

Download this report (Jan 2017; 12 pages; pdf)
Link to the fact sheet

A Fiscal Policy Project report.
The Fiscal Policy Project, a program of New Mexico Voices for Children, is made possible by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Native American Children and Families in New Mexico: Strengths and Challenges

Native American Kids Count cover

Snapshots from the American Community Survey and Other Data Sources

A New Mexico KIDS COUNT 2012 Special Report

Download the full report (Dec. 2012; 58 pages; pdf)
Find more data for New Mexico and the nation here


by Christine Hollis, MPH, MPS
Native Americans make up just 1.7 percent of the United States population. In New Mexico, however, they comprise a much larger share of the total population. Native Americans are 10.6 percent of the New Mexico population.1 This report covers 22 tribal communities in New Mexico; 19 pueblos and three tribes spanning five reservations. The pueblo lands range over eight counties and cover more than two million acres. The Navajo Nation spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. (For this report, only data for Navajos living on New Mexico reservations are used. For all tribes and pueblos, members not living on reservations or pueblos are included in the numbers for all New Mexico Native Americans.)

It should be noted that the criteria for child and family well-being used in this report come from the dominant white American culture. Some Native American people have differing criteria for “poverty,” for example. Poverty may be defined as a loss of traditional culture rather than earning a low income. In addition, New Mexico’s Native American communities have many strengths not necessarily reflected by the indicators used in this report. One capacity mentioned here is the high rate of children and youth who speak English and a language other than English; research is showing that preschoolers speaking more than one language may have better problem-solving skills than monolingual children. New Mexico’s Native American communities also have unique cultural identities beyond the use of tribal languages and other traditions. For example, unlike many tribes across the U.S. who were displaced from ancestral lands, most of the state’s tribes and pueblos have largely maintained or regained this important connection. Having a tangible tie to tradition and the land has a positive impact on community well-being in ways not measured in this report.

Report Highlights

Demographics: The section of the Navajo Nation that lies within the boundaries of New Mexico has the largest population (62,028) of the Native American communities in the state, while Zuni Pueblo has the second largest (10,537). Many of the pueblos are quite small, having populations of 2,000 or less. In addition, people of other races and mixed race/ethnicity live on tribal lands. In several pueblos, as much as 75 percent of the residents are non-Natives.

Demographically, New Mexico’s Native American pueblos and tribes differ from each other and from the state’s population as a whole. In eight communities, for example, the population of very young children (ages 0 to 5) makes up 10 percent or more of the tribe’s population, a rate higher than that of the state as a whole.

Economic Security and Housing: Economic conditions vary greatly among New Mexico communities, including tribal communities. Poverty—defined as living at or below the federal poverty level ($23,050 for a family of four)—is generally high in Indian country. Just over 25 percent of all New Mexico children under age 18 live in poverty versus 40 percent of all Native American children in the state. Yet, in only six of the tribal communities are more than 30 percent of children living there in poverty. Almost one in five (18 percent) of all New Mexicans live in poverty. Again, the rate is significantly higher for all Native Americans in the state, at 31 percent. However, Native Americans living on pueblo or reservation lands appear to have a small advantage; only in three of the tribal communities is the rate of poverty higher than that for the state’s Native Americans as a whole.

It is interesting to note that six Native American communities report a higher median household income than that of the state, which is $43,820. In only eight tribal communities, a greater number of children live in a household headed by a single mother than in homes headed by a married couple. Although more children living with a single parent live with a mother than a father, in 10 communities, a higher percentage of children living in poverty live in a household headed by a single male, rather than a female. This trend is somewhat different than that of New Mexico as a whole.

A family’s financial situation with regard to the federal poverty level is only one way of gauging the well-being of families and children. Another measure of economic security is to consider the other financial assets and resources families have—such as savings, interest from investments, and rental income—that can help them weather a financial downturn, likes the loss of a job or overwhelming medical expenses. In New Mexico, about one-fifth (21 percent) of all households have income including interest, dividends, and rental income. Few of the tribes covered in this report meet that percentage level, with some exceptions—among them the Jicarilla Apache, which reports 40 percent of its households having this type of income.

The number or percent of households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support (formerly “food stamps”) is often used as an indicator of “food security”—a measure of the ability of a family or household to ensure access to essential nutrition for its members. It is also linked to levels of poverty. In New Mexico, which is considered a “poor” state, up to 10 percent of all households—and 16 percent of Native American households—receive SNAP benefits.

Native American families with children have lower rates than the state as a whole when it comes to parents having secure (full-time, year-round) employment. In 20 percent of all New Mexico families with children, neither parent has had secure employment in the past year. Only in Isleta, San Ildefonso, and Jicarilla did less than 20 percent of families not have secure employment. In many of the tribal communities, up to a third or more of families had no secure employment. Eleven percent of all New Mexico children—and 22 percent of Native American children—live in families where no parent is in the labor force. In eight pueblos (Acoma, Cochiti, Jemez, Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara and Zia) a much lower percent of children face this situation.

New Mexico’s Native Americans tend to fare better than the rest of the state’s population in terms of housing costs. A high housing cost burden is defined as paying 30 percent or more of family income on rent or mortgage. In the state as a whole, more than one-third (38 percent) of households pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. In all Native American communities covered in this report, much smaller proportions of householders carry a high housing cost burden, with Laguna Pueblo having one of the lowest rates. One exception to this is Taos Pueblo, where 30 percent of households face high housing costs.

However, these data on the cost of housing should be balanced by information from reports over the years that find that housing conditions for Native Americans throughout the United States continue to be much worse than those for the nation as a whole.2 Nationally, roughly 40 percent of Native Americans lived or live in overcrowded or physically inadequate (poor quality, lack of complete plumbing, etc.) housing conditions.3

Education and Language: New Mexico’s Native American communities perform well in educating young children. In three-quarters (77 percent) of the state’s Native American communities, a high percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds are reported to be attending preschool (which includes the category “nursery school”). The rates of these children attending preschool range from 25 percent in Pojoaque to 100 percent in Nambé. (However, population sizes for 3- to 4-year-olds in these areas are often quite small.) The overall state enrollment rate for 3- and 4-year-olds is 39 percent, while the overall rate for all Native American preschoolers is 47 percent. Research shows that participation in a system of high-quality early childhood care and education services—from birth to age 5—greatly improves a child’s chances of success in education, health, and in the workforce.

The wording of the American Community Survey question does not clarify what those responding to this enrollment question meant by “preschool” or “nursery school.” Thus, 3- and 4-year olds may be attending licensed child care centers, registered family homes, Head Start, Early Head Start, preschool, or something else. Some of these programs, like Head Start, are of higher quality than others. However, the high rates of attendance do indicate a potential path to improved educational, health, and economic outcomes for Native American children.


Native languages are spoken in all of New Mexico’s tribes and pueblos, though to varying degrees. A high proportion of Native American children ages 5 to 17 living in their communities speak a language other than English, and a very high percentage of these youth also speak English “very well.” Due to the way the American Community Survey question is phrased, it is not possible to report with accuracy how many children are truly bilingual—fluent in both languages. However, a higher percent of Native American children (34 percent) speak English and another language than do New Mexico children as a whole (26 percent). Tribes with more than half of their children reporting they speak two languages include Acoma, Cochiti, Jemez, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, Zia, and Zuni. Few Native American children, except among the Navajo, are reported to be linguistically isolated (defined as having “no family member older than 14 years old who speaks English well”).

Increasing evidence has shown that bilingualism, especially among young children, improves the brain’s executive functions and cognitive ability. Preschool children who speak more than one language have shown greater ability to solve mental puzzles than monolingual children.4 For this reason, efforts to promote bilingualism in Native American—and all schools—are of great value. Preserving one’s Native language also has great cultural value.

While language competency is a big plus for Native American children, it may not necessarily translate to high literacy levels. Not all of the native languages spoken in New Mexico have a written component, and cultural traditions have generally placed more value on oral story telling than on reading or writing. Whether or not this is a factor in the English reading scores of Native American students is uncertain, but it is certainly worth further study.

In only four of the tribal communities in New Mexico, do a greater percent of youth (ages 18 to 24) than those in the state as a whole have either a high school diploma or higher level of education. In Santa Ana and Pojoaque nearly 90 percent of youth have a high school diploma or higher. These rates rest predominantly on the numbers of youth who graduated from high school; many fewer young Native Americans living in the pueblo or reservation communities are attending or have attended a college or university.

Only Pojoaque (34 percent), San Ildefonso (33 percent), and Zuni (31 percent) come close to meeting the state enrollment rate (35 percent) for youth ages 18 to 24 in higher education. In four tribal communities, the percentage is exceptionally low; for example, only 2 percent of youth in Tesuque and 4 percent in Mescalero are enrolled. Yet when we also consider the data for Native American youth who live outside the tribal community boundaries, the enrollment rate rises—27 percent for all Native Americans ages 18 to 24 living in New Mexico as a whole, and 35 percent for those in Albuquerque. This may indicate that enrollment rates are lower in pueblo and reservation communities because the young people are no longer living at home and are attending higher education institutions located outside the pueblos or reservations.

Another indicator may be cause for concern—the percent of teens ages 16 to 19 who are not in school or working (sometimes referred to as “disconnected” youth). Eleven percent of all teens in this age group in New Mexico are in this category, yet in only seven tribal communities is the percent of disconnected teens at or below the rate for the state. Some Native American communities have much higher rates, as in Nambé Pueblo, where 69 percent of teens are not in school or working. This may also be a reflection of a lack of employment opportunities in the areas where these teens live.

A Key Indicator of Success: 4th Grade Reading Scores

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assesses nationally representative samples of 4th grade students on their reading proficiency every two years. Reading proficiency by 4th grade is considered a “make-or-break benchmark” as to whether a child will succeed in school—and in life. This is because children “learn how to read” up to 4th grade; after this, they must “read to learn,” i.e. use their reading skills to learn other subjects like math and science.5 A student who is not proficient in reading by 4th grade may find later subject texts incomprehensible, become frustrated, and fall behind other students in school performance. Such students often face potential grade retention, and may develop social and behavioral problems. Children who are not proficient readers by 4th grade are more likely to drop out or not graduate from high school.6

New Mexico ranks at the bottom of all 50 states in the percent of all 4th graders who can read proficiently; 80 percent of our 4th graders cannot read at this level. The result for Native American 4th graders in New Mexico schools is even more worrisome, as only 12 percent could read proficiently in 2011, the most recent assessment. Figure 1 shows how well all New Mexico’s 4th graders performed and how well Native American 4th graders performed in the 2007, 2009, and 2011 assessments.

NAKC-Figure 1

Since 2005, the NAEP has also administered the National Indian Education Study (NIES) every two years. This assessment provides more in-depth reporting on the academic performance and progress of U.S. Native American students in 4th and 8th grades. The NIES is conducted in 12 states—including New Mexico—that have large Native American populations, which means sample sizes are large enough to report results for Native American students. National results are based on representative samples of Native American students in public and private schools, Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, and Department of Defense schools. Native American students participating in the NIES survey also take part in the NAEP assessment.

NAKC-Figure 2
Nationally, only 14 percent of Native American 4th graders performed at the proficient level in the 2011 NIES; 29 percent read at the basic level. In general, those Native American students in public schools scored about 22 points higher than those attending BIE schools. The scores of New Mexico 4th graders were lower than the national average, and the percentage of Native American students scoring at or above the basic level in this state were also lower. However, it should be noted that the percentage of New Mexico Native American 4th graders scoring at the proficient level increased from 2005 to 2011.

Figure 2 shows the trend in NIES student scoring from 2005 to 2011.7 Research shows that children’s participation in high-quality early childhood care and education improves their readiness for school and their 4th grade reading scores. As both of these indicators are contributors to future academic and workplace success, it is essential that New Mexico move forward quickly on policies supportive of a solid early childhood care and education system in the state, so all children can succeed.


1. U.S. Census, 2010.
2. Housing Assistance Council. (1999). Cost Based Appraisals on Native American Trust Lands: A Longitudinal Analysis. Washington, D.C.: Housing Assistance Council.
3. Youmans, R. (2002). Native American Housing Needs and Proposed Recommendations. Background Paper done for the Millennial Housing Commission. Washington, D.C.: Federal Housing Finance Board.
4. Hollis, C. (2012). Immigration Matters in New Mexico: How KIDS COUNT. Albuquerque, NM: NM Voices for Children.
5. Fiester, L. & Smith, R. (2010). Learning to Read—Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters: A KIDS COUNT Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
6. Ibid.
7. National Center on Educational Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences. (2011). National Indian Education Study 2011: The Educational Experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native Students at Grades 4 and 8. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Download the full report (Dec. 2012; 58 pages; pdf)
Find more data for New Mexico and the nation here

NM KIDS COUNT is a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Immigration Matters in New Mexico: How KIDS COUNT


Community Brief

by Christine Hollis, MPH, MPS

Download this community brief (June 2012; 4 pages; pdf)
Download this community brief in Spanish (June 2012; 4 pages; pdf)
Download the full report (June 2012; 16 pages; pdf)
Find more data for New Mexico and the nation here

Who are immigrants and why do they immigrate?

People who come to the U.S. from other countries want a better future—for themselves and their children. Most say: “I came here so I could provide for my family,” or “My dad had a dream for us, for a better life,” or “I could not go to college in my own country.” Sadly, life for immigrants—and for their children—has become very hard since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The U.S. has never had a good system to help immigrants join and fit in to American society and, after the attack, many Americans did not trust people from outside the U.S. Some states have passed laws that make life very stressful and unsafe for immigrants.

Some immigrants become American citizens through the naturalization process. Those who don’t but want to live here long-term are called resident aliens. Immigrants who do not become so-called naturalized citizens still have most of the rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens—the major exception being the right to vote. All children born in the U.S. are citizens regardless of the immigration status of their foreign-born parents.

ImmgrntKC-Figure I

Some immigrants are undocumented—meaning they live in the U.S. but they do not have legal status and cannot get lawful work. They may have entered the country without documentation or they may have stayed after their visa or other temporary documentation expired. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials find a person without current immigration documentation, that person will usually be deported.

Who are New Mexico’s immigrants and their children?

If we think of New Mexico as a town of 100 people, ten of those people would be foreign-born. Only four of these ten people would be undocumented, and three of them would be naturalized citizens1—and thus, they could vote. Four out of the ten children living with these foreign-born parents would be poor,2 but almost eight of them would be able to speak English well.3 Most children in New Mexico are citizens even if their parents were born in another country.

What do immigrants bring to the state?

Immigrants bring many strengths with them—they believe in hard work and the value of schooling for their children; they want to live in and build thriving communities; and they tend to have stable, healthy families. More than one in ten workers in the state is an immigrant and these workers play a key role in our state because their earnings and the taxes they pay circulate billions of dollars through the state’s economy.

A good education is the best path for immigrant children—as it is for all children—to do well in life. Immigrant children—even those who are undocumented—have a right to a public education and immigrant children often do well in school. How well they do depends on how prepared they are for school, their parents’ level of schooling, and how well they (and their parents) speak English. Immigrant children will do better if they have good early childhood care and education that prepares them for school. Their success will also depend on how well they (and their parents) cope with the school system.

Research shows that being able to speak two languages (to be bilingual) is a strength. People with this skill are better able to plan, focus, reason, multi-task, recall, and solve problems than those who speak just one language (or are monolingual). Thus, it is good to foster the skill of speaking two languages. Fifty-nine of New Mexico’s 89 school districts have bilingual programs. Of the more than 32,000 foreign-born residents in New Mexico, almost four in ten (38 percent) are enrolled in college classes.4

ImmgrntKC-Figure II

What challenges do immigrant children face in New Mexico?

In 2012, the Governor asked the state Legislature to reverse the law that allows undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. It did not pass. Many immigrant children do not have access to good early childhood programs or good health care, both of which help them do well in school and allow them to become contributing members of society. However, undocumented youths who finish high school in New Mexico can pay resident tuition at our state universities and colleges. New Mexico is just one of 13 states that allow this. It helps more immigrant students go to college here, but undocumented students still cannot get federal funding for college.

ImmgrntKC-Figure III

All over the country, undocumented immigrants live in fear of being deported. Having a child who is a citizen will not keep an undocumented parent from being deported. Immigrant parents worry about how their children will cope if they are left alone in the U.S., as they often are when parents are deported. These children are at risk of shock, stress, and depression, all of which may have long-term harmful effects on their health and academic achievement. Children brought here by their parents when very young are often fearful to return to a country that has now become foreign to them. Schools can be safe places where children of deportees can get help, and many New Mexico communities have united to help these families with housing, food, and legal aid.


What can be done in New Mexico?

Immigrants, even those who are undocumented, are a key part of our state’s economy. Many businesses would not do as well without immigrant workers. The U.S. has immigration policies that need to be changed. There are things we can do in this state to support immigrant children and their families. We can:

  • Urge our federal leaders to create fair, thorough, and effective immigration policy.
  • Press Congress to pass the DREAM Act to help undocumented youth become contributing citizens if they complete college or military service.
  • Urge our state leaders to fund quality early childhood care and pre-K education, and health care for all children. This will help them be as “school ready” as possible, giving them a better chance at success.
  • Urge the Legislature to continue funding proven bilingual education learning models.
  • Urge the state to work with ICE to allow detained parents to have visits with their children.
  • Find ways to help children who are sent to foster care when their parents are detained or deported. Help train foster care staff—and foster families—in the rights of immigrant children and services that could help them.
  • Urge leaders to vote for laws that support immigrant children and families.


1. Immigration Policy Center. (January 2012). New Americans in New Mexico. At: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/ipc/images/infographics/New%20Mexico.jpg
2. U.S. Census, American Community Survey, 2002-2010, and www.datacenter.kidscount.org
3. Immigration Policy Center. Op cit.
4. U.S. Census, American Community Survey, 2006-10, Table S0501

Download this community brief (June 2012; 4 pages; pdf)
Download this community brief in Spanish (June 2012; 4 pages; pdf)
Download the full report (June 2012; 16 pages; pdf)
Find more data for New Mexico and the nation here

NM KIDS COUNT is a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Race, Ethnicity, and Economic Outcomes in New Mexico

R-E EconOutcomes-Cover Download this report (June 2011; 14 pages; pdf)
Link to the first report in this series, Making Sure All KIDS COUNT: Disparities Among New Mexico’s Children (Dec. 2010)
Download the first report in this series, Making Sure All KIDS COUNT: Disparities Among New Mexico’s Children (22 pages; pdf)

by Gerry Bradley, M.A.
This report is the second in a series documenting the disparities faced by children and families of color in New Mexico. This report will also describe policies that can effectively help all children and families—but especially those who face racial/ethnic disparities—and that could be implemented in this state. Our first paper in this series, Making Sure All KIDS COUNT: Disparities Among New Mexico’s Children, presented data documenting disparities faced by children of color in economic, health and educational outcomes. This paper will describe economic performance of the three largest racial/ethnic groups in New Mexico—Whites, Hispanics and Native Americans—as well as two much smaller racial groups—Blacks and Asians. It will also try to explain what is behind those different economic outcomes.

Setting the Context: Some Basic Language

New Mexico Voices for Children (NM Voices) collects and reports on the most comprehensive health, economic, educational and demographic data available to show how children and families are doing. These reliable data indicate where barriers exist that keep children and families from doing well and where gaps in well-being exist among different populations. We use these data to design and promote state and local policies, programs and opportunities that support all families, especially when they face disparities* and/or go through tough times.

Our state’s population is increasingly diverse, and people’s lives are shaped by various factors—like where they live, work, learn and play, what resources they have, the people around them, and their history and race or ethnicity.** Where one starts in life—in a poor or well-to-do family, in a safe or unsafe neighborhood, with or without access to health care and fine schools—tends to strongly affect the kind of life one will have. For these reasons, NM Voices is making a considered effort—in all its publications and work—to increase the amount and types of data broken down by income, race and ethnicity, and geography to better show where barriers to well-being exist for children. It is useful to break down data by such constructs as race and ethnicity so we can see how different groups of people compare on a measure, like economic status. This helps us to identify a disparity or inequity that is particularly pronounced in one or more groups. Identifying the disparity is just the first step—we must also determine what the causal factors are before we can consider how to address it. Decision-makers can then develop policies to better solve the underlying issue and promote equity for all.

NM Voices is most concerned with barriers to child well-being that are considered to be embedded racial inequities.*** An example of this was the design of the G.I. Bill after World War II. While this was a positive program that provided low-interest mortgages and down payment waivers for returning servicemen who wanted to buy homes for their families, it did not accord the same benefits to all racial groups. Restrictive lending practices at the time favoring Whites meant that more White families could purchase homes in new suburban neighborhoods than could Black, Hispanic, Native-American or Asian servicemen. Because of this inequitable access to the mortgage benefit, this meant that, over time, Whites were better able to begin building wealth. Today, White families continue to have greater wealth (resource) accumulation than do communities of color.

As much as possible, this special report presents racial and ethnic data using the U.S. Census Bureau classifications. Given this, races include: White, American Indian/Alaskan Native (we will use the term Native American), African American/Black (we will use the term Black), Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, “two or more races,” and “other race alone.” The U.S. Census considers the Hispanic(or Latino) origin an “ethnicity,” not a race. Since people in each race group may also be Hispanic (such as a White-Hispanic or Black-Hispanic), this report presents most data by the following categories: Hispanic (any race), White (non-Hispanic), Black, Native American, and Asian.

Economic Well-Being and Race/Ethnicity

In New Mexico, as in much of the rest of the country, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Blacks lag behind Whites and Asians by several measures of economic success. As Table I indicates, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Blacks are more likely than Whites and Asians to live in poverty.

Three times as many Hispanic families and four times as many Native American families live in poverty as White families. Race and ethnicity are not the only issues at play here, as family structure is also an important indicator. Within each group, married couple families have much lower rates of poverty than do female householder families.

R-E EconOutcomes-Table I

Table II shows that there is a substantial gap—about 30 percent—between the median family income of Whites compared to Hispanics and Native Americans. For all types of family structures, Whites and Asians have a higher median income than Hispanics, Native Americans, and Blacks. For all groups, however, families headed by a married couple have higher median income than single-parent families.

R-E EconOutcomes-Table II

The source of a family’s income tells another story about that family’s economic well-being (see Table III). Clearly, householders in their working years fare better than those who depend on programs like Social Security because they are retired or for other reasons. While the median income gap between the White and the Hispanic and Native American populations is nearly 30 percent, the earnings gap is about 40 percent. The earnings gap shows that disparities likely exist within the labor market and the educational systems that prepare one to join the workforce. Gaps in mean Social Security income are somewhat smaller, although still significant, but mean retirement income is significantly higher for Asians and Whites than Hispanics and Native Americans. There may be several reasons for this. Asians and Whites may be more likely to have held jobs that paid a pension or contributed to a retirement account. They may also be more likely to have had enough disposable income that some could be placed in savings or invested in income-generating ventures.

R-E EconOutcomes-Table III

One interesting note is that, even though Hispanics and Native Americans have lower mean incomes and higher rates of poverty than do Whites and Asians, their mean incomes from cash assistance are significantly lower than for Whites. The underlying cause for this disparity should be the source of significant study. Questions that should be answered include: are Hispanics and Native Americans less likely to apply for cash assistance? If so, what are the reasons? Are they more likely to be turned down for assistance or to receive smaller benefit sums? If so, how much of this may be at the discretion of those programs?

The demographics of each population, particularly regarding age, offer other pertinent factors, and shed some light on economic disparity. The age distributions of Whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, Black and Asians are starkly different, with Native Americans and Blacks skewing younger, and Whites skewing older. Some of the gaps seen in economic outcomes, such as family and household income and earnings, can be attributed to the youth of the Native American and Black populations.

Table IV, Population by Age, shows that the age structure of Native Americans and Blacks is roughly similar, while that of Whites is markedly different. Almost a third of the Native American and Black populations, and about a quarter of the Hispanic and Asian populations, are under the age of 18, while less than a fifth of the White population is in that age group. This is relevant because, except for those in their late teens, youths in this age category do not contribute to the household income.

The Hispanic, Native American, and Black populations are also larger in the next age category, 18 to 34 years. While this age group has entered the workforce, they are still attempting to establish a secure footing in the labor market—entry-level jobs and many job changes are typical of this age group. Lower wages are expected for workers new to the labor market.

R-E EconOutcomes-Table IV

Those in the 35 to 64 age group are considered to be in their prime earning years. Job changing has slowed down and wages are rising with job stability and movement up the job ladder. About 44 percent of Whites and 40 percent of Asians are of prime working age, compared to only about a third of Native Americans and Blacks.

Finally, almost 20 percent of Whites are 65 and older, compared to 9 percent of Hispanics and 6 percent of Native Americans. At that age, people have largely completed their working life and have entered retirement. As shown in Table III, Asians and Whites also have higher retirement income than Hispanics and Native Americans. Higher retirement income generally reflects higher earnings during working years.

The concentration of Hispanics, Native Americans, and Blacks in the younger age groups put them at a disadvantage in economic outcomes. Whites and Asians are concentrated in the prime working age group, while Blacks and Native Americans are in the youngest age groups. While these differing age demographics most clearly reflect a shift in population growth, other factors may well be at play. For example, health disparities, most notably high diabetes rates for Native Americans and Hispanics, and high rates of heart disease for Blacks, may lead to premature mortality rates for those groups.

Just as birth rates may play a role in economic disparity, education levels play a role in birth rates—the higher the level of maternal education in a population, the lower the birth rate. Young women who have the means to go to college have more of an incentive to delay childbirth than do young women who do not believe a professional career path is within their reach. Women who put off having a family until they are through college and have had some years in the marketplace are less likely to have as large a family as women who didn’t have such options.

From Table V, it can be seen that there is a notable discrepancy between the educational level of Asians and Whites compared to Hispanics, Native Americans, and Blacks. Hispanics and Native Americans are far more likely to have ‘less than High School’ or ‘High School Graduate’ levels of education, and far less likely to have completed some college, or have a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree. Whites, on the other hand, are more likely to have some college, a bachelor’s degree or a professional or graduate degree. Asians have the highest rates of graduate degrees. This educational discrepancy poses a challenge to narrowing the gap in economic outcomes amongst the groups. Level of education will determine labor market outcomes, as will be seen in the next chart and table.

R-E EconOutcomes-Table V

The distribution of the labor force by occupation is telling. Due in part to the youth and lower educational levels of the Hispanic, Native American and Black populations, these groups are over-represented in the service and production/transportation occupations, which tend to be higher-paying and offer better benefits. Hispanics and Native Americans are also over-represented in the construction/extraction industries. Asians and Whites, also due in part to greater age and higher education levels, are concentrated in management and professional occupations, which tend to be higher paying and offer better benefits. It is interesting that there is parity among Whites, Hispanics, Native-Americans, and Blacks in the sales and office category.

R-E EconOutcomes-Table VI

Citizenship status is another factor that can impact economic performance. As shown in Table VII, there is a wide discrepancy between Whites, Hispanics, and Asians in this indicator. While Whites are nearly 98 percent U.S. born, Hispanics are only 83 percent U.S. born. Also, foreign-born Hispanics are more likely not to be citizens than foreign-born Whites. Foreign-born residents who are not American citizens perform significantly worse than those who are native-born on most economic indicators. For instance, foreign-born New Mexico residents who are not citizens had a poverty rate of nearly 32 percent, while foreign-born New Mexicans who were U.S. citizens had a poverty rate of only 15.5 percent. This is a lower poverty rate than for the state as a whole, which is at 18 percent. The exception to this trend is seen in New Mexico’s Asian population. While they have, by far, the highest percentage of foreign-born residents—both who are citizens and who are not—they fare much better economically. Across all groups, foreign-born residents who become American citizens perform well by most economic indicators, including mean earnings and median household income.

R-E EconOutcomes-Table VII

Policy Recommendations

In conclusion, there is a substantial disparity in poverty rates, median income by household type, and household income by type of earnings between Whites and Asians on the one hand and Hispanics, Native Americans, and Blacks on the other. The disparity can be explained in part by the age distribution, educational attainment, and citizenship status of the five populations. In addition to these factors, many Native Americans contend with geographic isolation, which limits employment opportunities significantly.

One key to improving economic performance for Hispanics, Native Americans, and Blacks is access to high-quality comprehensive early childhood care and education programs, beginning with parental supports at birth such as voluntary parental coaching. Such programs are known to improve educational outcomes, including high school graduation and college attendance rates. They also are shown to lower the rates of teen pregnancy and youth incarceration—both of which impede later economic outcomes. Putting foreign-born Hispanics on a path to citizenship through comprehensive immigration reform will also help. To the extent that educational and employment outcomes are the result of segregation and discrimination, legal and legislative action will be needed.


*Disparity: A state of being different or unequal, as in age, rank, level or amount.
**Race and Ethnicity: Socially-constructed terms to describe differences (diversity) among people, and to give social and political meaning to the descriptions. Race, for example, is a socially constructed way to group people based on shared traits or physical appearance, like skin color, hair type, or eye shape. Ethnicity is used to describe people with something in common, like language, religion, ancestors, place, culture or values. Though being a part of a racial or ethnic group gives many people a sense of self and social identity, the concept of race has no real scientific basis. Biology shows that, genetically, humans are basically the same.
***Embedded racial inequities (also referred to as structural racism): Public policies, institutional practices and norms that—often unintentionally—make it possible for Whites to have more success than other racial/ethnic groups, thus reinforcing racial group inequities.

Download this report (June 2011; 14 pages; pdf)
Link to the first report in this series, Making Sure All KIDS COUNT: Disparities Among New Mexico’s Children (Dec. 2010)
Download the first report in this series, Making Sure All KIDS COUNT: Disparities Among New Mexico’s Children (Dec. 2010; 22 pages; pdf)

The Fiscal Policy Project, a program of New Mexico Voices for Children, is made possible by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.