SANTA FE, NM. - New Mexico is facing an unprecedented crisis. With the third highest poverty rate in the country and a literacy rate that is severely lacking, the situation for many of its citizens is dire. This generational poverty has created a cycle of illiteracy that is hard to break.
According to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book for New Mexico, only 24% of fourth and 21% of eighth graders are proficient in reading, while more than 25% of high school students do not graduate on time. Unsurprisingly, these numbers get worse with age: nearly 12% of teenagers are neither in school nor working, and 29% of adults read at the level of a 5- to 7-year-old.
Nevertheless, why are so many New Mexicans struggling with literacy? Education experts believe poverty has an inextricable link to literacy – particularly regarding children.
A lack of resources means parents cannot afford books or provide their kids with other educational support. Moreover, without these resources, it is difficult for them to attain the basic skills necessary for reading comprehension and success in other areas, such as math and science.
Unfortunately, this issue affects more than just education levels; it also affects economic well-being. Improving literacy rates could help New Mexicans access better jobs with higher wages, allowing them to lift themselves out of poverty.
Studies have shown that those who can finish high school earn more over their lifetimes than those who do not complete their education – up to $400,000 more by some estimates.
Thankfully, organizations are working hard to improve literacy rates throughout the state – from public libraries offering free books and technology classes to nonprofits providing tutoring programs and scholarships for college enrollment.
Additionally, lawmakers have proposed bills such as House Bill 463, which would allocate funding toward improving early childhood education and increasing access to mental health services in New Mexico schools.
But ultimately, it will take much more effort from public and private entities to make any real headway on this issue. We must:
- Invest additional funds into programs that promote literacy among all ages;
- Provide teachers with better resources so they can better support their students;
- Increase access to technology;
- Create innovative ways for learning;
- Expand afterschool programs;
- Ensure every child has access to quality healthcare;
- And involve community members as mentors or advocates for children suffering from generational poverty and illiteracy issues.
It will not be easy, but if we want New Mexicans to break free from this cycle of illiteracy and poverty, then we must work together now before things get even worse. We owe it to our citizens and future generations, who deserve equal opportunities regardless of how much money they have or where they live.