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SANTA FE (AP) — More New Mexicans have fallen into poverty during the past two years and the state has the third highest poverty rate in the nation, according to the latest Census Bureau report.
The increase in poverty reflects the recession taking a firmer hold in New Mexico, said Gerry Bradley, an economist and research director for New Mexico Voices for Children, an Albuquerque-based group that advocates for social programs benefiting the poor and children.
The poverty rate in New Mexico was 19.3 percent in 2008-2009 compared with 15.5 percent in 2006-2007.
“With the unemployment rate up as much as it is and employment falling, it’s not surprising that poverty would rise like that,” Bradley said.
Nationally, the average poverty rate rose by more than a percentage point in 2008-2009.
In the latest Current Population Survey released on Thursday, the Census Bureau used two-year averages for evaluating changes within a state, but it provided three-year averages to make comparisons among states. The agency based its estimates on a survey of households across the country and there’s a relatively small sample from New Mexico.
Only two states had higher average poverty rates than New Mexico in 2007-2009: Mississippi at 21.3 percent and Arizona, 17.8 percent. The District of Columbia had the same rate as New Mexico, 17.5 percent. The national average was 13.4 percent.
Mississippi, Louisiana and D.C. had higher poverty rates than New Mexico in 2006-2008.
Bradley said the recession hit New Mexico in the second half of 2008 while nationally it started in late 2007.
“We were a little late coming in, but now it’s really hitting,” said Bradley.
The number of New Mexicans seeking cash and food assistance has increased monthly since January 2009, said Human Services Secretary Katie Falls.
There’s been a 11 percent increase in New Mexicans receiving cash assistance in the past year and a nearly 24 percent increase for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.