By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Almost half the babies born in Curry and Roosevelt counties in 2006 were to unwed mothers and the rates are rising, a state vital statistic report released recently shows.
Local numbers are consistent with the state, which currently sits at 51 percent, Donna Bossey with the New Mexico Department of Health said.
At 44 percent in 2006, Curry had an increase of 2 percent from 2005. Roosevelt came in at 49 percent, a 6 percent rise above 2005 numbers, the report said.
“We do have a higher level of birth to single mothers than the U.S. as a whole,” she said.
State studies show birth to single women is highest in ethnic groups such blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics, Bossey said.
Chief of the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Bossey said the primary significance of the high rates is economic, explaining children of unwed mothers are often at a disadvantage because there is only one income in the household.
“Many people have been raised by single mothers and do wonderfully (but) the income levels in New Mexico are already low,” she said.
“For a child that lives in a one-parent household, the income is obviously lower. New Mexico has a high number of children living in poverty, putting them at a disadvantage.”
The high percentages are consistent in communities throughout the state, she said, though those areas with higher populations and ethnic representation such as Dona Ana, McKinley and San Juan Counties top the list.
It’s a reality that is difficult for some communities to face, she said.
“Some places may think they’re really conservative and when they look at their data, they find out they’re really not,” she said.
Jackie Hoppe with the Workforce Connections One Stop Center in Clovis estimated 80 percent of the job seekers who come in are single parents.
Offered at the center are a host of resources for job seekers and local businesses, including computer resources and training programs.
Hoppe was not surprised to hear the data, “You have to believe it because our case load is so high with (single parents).”
“Single motherhood is a stigma (but) it’s just a fact of life, so we try to support every client that comes through our door regardless,” she said.
Some of the hardships single parents face, Hoppe said, are difficulties pursuing higher education, finding and keeping jobs and locating stable but affordable child care.
A single mother for 10 years, Hoppe said she still believes it was the right decision for her and her children.
“We have remarkable women raising children in this community … I think that single mothers don’t get nearly enough credit,” she said.
Part of dealing with the reality of single parenthood is for communities to be aware of the unique challenges they face.
“We need to educate society on what single parents need and not just single mothers. It takes a village. You’ve got to have support and you’ve got to have a back-up plan,” she said.