- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico saw a spike in the number of people living in poverty last year and maintained the nation’s second-highest percentage, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers released Thursday.

Census figures indicate that 21.9 percent of New Mexico residents lived in poverty last year, roughly 22,000 more people than in 2012. That’s a jump from 20.8 percent.

Nationally, the rate was 15.8 percent in 2013 compared to 15.9 percent the year before.

Only Mississippi had a poverty rate higher than New Mexico in 2013 with 24 percent of that state’s residents living in poverty.

In addition, New Mexico joined New Jersey and Washington as the three states that experienced increases in both the number and percentage of people in poverty between 2012 and 2013.

The numbers come just weeks after Tesla announce it would build a battery factory in Nevada instead of New Mexico and months after state lawmakers failed to come up with a compromise on an early childhood program in the state.

“It’s a crisis,” said Javier Benavidez, executive director of the Albuquerque-based SouthWest Organizing Project, an anti-poverty organization. “Our public policies that nibble at the edges aren’t cutting it.”

Benavidez said elected officials needed to come up with more bold solutions to fight poverty in the state.

Veronica Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said she believed that state lawmakers were too focused on offering tax cuts to attract businesses rather than pushing for programs like expanding early children education.

Behind the new state numbers, Garcia said, are the untold stories of poverty’s effect. “These numbers don’t show the hunger, the toxic stress, the drug abuse and the homeless that result from poverty,” she said.

The official poverty level is based on a government calculation that includes only income before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership.

Census figures also show the median income in New Mexico rose slightly from year to year: From $43,423 in 2013 to $43,872 from last year.

The median income in the U.S. rose from $51,915 in 2012 to $52,250 in 2013.

New Mexico also has the highest percentage of Hispanic residents, 47 percent, in the nation, Census numbers show.

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