I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Poverty is all around us
You might not have heard much about this, what with the mayoral election going on and the head UNM football coach going around socking people, but the U.S. Census Bureau came out with its new state-by-state poverty status numbers for 2008.
We’re number seven. Yes, that’s right, New Mexico edged out Mississippi, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., Kentucky, Louisiana and West Virginia to become the seventh-poorest state in the Union (if you count D.C. , which isn’t a state).
That dubious honor comes right on the heels of the Census Department’s announcement that New Mexico has the one of the nation’s highest rates of people with no health insurance.
Both of those grim statistics got a smattering of coverage in the media on the days they were released.
But the damning figures didn’t get the attention they deserve, considering how fundamentally important they are to everything that happens in our state.
New Mexico’s shocking rate of poverty underpins everything we care about and everything we live every day, including crime, taxes, healthcare and education—and not just cheese sandwiches handed out to “poor kids” at some schools but ultimately, graduation rates and student achievement at all schools.
You might think you live in a safe area and your kids go to good schools and you don’t know any poor people. So maybe you don’t have to care.
But there are people all over this state who are grindingly poor—pay a tiny bit of attention and you’ll see them all over the place.
Homeless people walking the street, yes, but also single moms—maybe including your neighbor—driving beater cars that are barely street safe.
Middle-class families—maybe including your cousin—visiting food kitchens and clothing banks to keep their children clothed and fed and not made fun of at school.
High school grads—maybe your kid—who can’t even land jobs at McDonald’s and spend all their time hanging out….and maybe thinking about breaking into someone’s car or house to make some cash.
Underemployed professionals—maybe even you—taking out payday loans or selling books and CDs to keep up with their rent and bills.
As for the high rate of uninsured New Mexicans, that means more people here go without regular or preventative healthcare and only show up in obscenely expensive emergency rooms when they need to see a doctor.
High rates of uninsured people means that people who finally do see doctors are usually very sick, with illnesses that might well have been preventable.
Obviously all this hurts the people who are uninsured.
But it ends up costing everyone.
So even if you think you’re good, you’re fat and happy, remember: The line is not so thin between us and them. Or whoever you think “them” is these days.
There is something to be said for awareness, and for empathy. And I think it’s worth saying now more than ever, as the tenor of the national debate gets vicious and people shout louder about “socialized medicine” without acknowledging that the current system of underinsurance costs us all billions and takes an untold toll on million of Americans who didn’t choose to be sick.
And it’s worth remembering as governments advocate slashing services to people who live paycheck to paycheck while giving tax breaks to corporations and conglomerates.
And it’s worth keeping in mind that, instead of making arch comments about “throwing money at public education,” we can stand up against plans to gut the public education budget for the schools our own children attend.
Those grim New Mexico statistics reflect us all— and we are all in this together.