New Mexico is changing, and for the better. The richness of our diversity is growing; more young children receive quality early childhood education; entrepreneurship is on the rise; more of our people have health insurance; and we are actively protecting the lifeblood of our state – water. However, our challenges remain significant. This report spotlights some of our new victories and biggest hurdles.
In education, we see a mix of worrisome and promising trends. Some families continue to struggle to get their children to school, resulting
in troubling truancy rates that have not improved. Many of our students continue to struggle with math and reading. As they get older,
almost a third do not complete high school, and, of students who enter college, only 40 percent complete their bachelor’s degree within
six years. However, we see bright spots with increased enrollment in pre-kindergarten programs and increased numbers of college STEM
graduates. These indicators point to the urgency of engaging parents and helping children develop a true love for school. They also
suggest that we continue to prepare and retain terrific teachers, thus helping to raise student proficiency across the board. And we
must work together to close achievement gaps for all students from all cultural backgrounds.
In health, our state struggles with the most basic building block, access to healthy food – especially among children. This challenge contributes to another, diabetes. More of our people die of this disease than the national average, particularly Native Americans. In addition, substance abuse deaths in New Mexico are increasing, related to both alcohol and illegal drugs. Our state lacks the capacity to tackle these and other health challenges as aggressively as we might like, because we struggle to recruit and retain enough healthcare and mental health professionals. That said, there is good news. Preventive healthcare appears to be working in New Mexico. Heart disease deaths are declining, fewer people smoke, and child immunization rates continue to improve. All these variables suggest that New Mexico must expand the ways people access healthy foods, invest in substance abuse and chronic disease prevention, and continue to support the next generation of healthcare professionals.
These activities can also support the economic well-being of struggling New Mexico families, particularly the fifth of our state living in poverty. Other economic challenges include a state employment base that is not nearly as diverse as neighboring states, far fewer venture capital investments to finance innovation, and 9,500 people have dropped out of the workforce since 2009. The good news is that a lower percentage of our people are unemployed compared five years ago, the portion of economy devoted to international exports is increasing, and our rating for a healthy business climate is improving. We also continue to be an important energy producer, both conventional and renewable. If the nation’s transmission grid were expanded, our capacity to export energy would increase even more.
That said, economic growth in New Mexico is impossible without adequate water to support businesses, families and the environment. Our overall water use has declined in recent years – with laudable water conservation by families and municipalities. Agricultural and industrial water use has held relatively steady. We remain in compliance with all interstate water compacts, meeting our legal and ethical obligations to deliver water to our neighbors. However, our overly dense forests consume large volumes of water and increase the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires that can pollute water supplies, hurt our economy and damage the environment. Additionally, well over half our rivers and lakes are impaired by various types of pollution. The safety conditions of our state-regulated dams are worsening, a reality that places people, the economy and the environment at risk. And our ability to plan for the future is hindered by the need for better and more integrated groundwater data.
These four interconnected areas – education, health, economy and water – create a foundation for New Mexico’s future. As a state, we are two million people who can bring about remarkable changes. Given the strength of our families, cultures, businesses and values, we can solve our problems while preserving what makes us unique in the nation and world.