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Military Families Face Unique Financial Challenges, Study Shows

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Being a member of the military isn’t just a job — it’s a way of life. The military lifestyle has a great impact on the lives of military families in many ways, from where they live to the way they get health care. The lifestyle can also impact family finances.

To better understand this impact, Blue Star Families — a California-based military family support organization — conducted the 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. The survey examines the issues military- and veteran-connected families face, and its findings include the financial aspects associated with the military lifestyle, such as military spouse employment and general debt.

Instability plagues military families

Nearly a quarter of active-duty family respondents say military family quality of life is a top concern, pointing to issues with instability and inconsistency of daily life. That instability also extends to their financial lives. For example, among active-duty family respondents who have reported concerns over finances, 41% consider spousal unemployment or underemployment as a major source of stress. Student loans, also a common stressor within the general public, followed at 30%.

And for those moving because of a permanent change of station (PCS) order, financial instability is especially concerning. After all, they face all of the aforementioned issues on top of the burdens associated with moving: long military housing waitlists, unaffordable civilian housing markets and expensive rental costs, among them.

Although certain PCS expenses are tax-deductible, that doesn’t help military families looking for immediate financial assistance during a move. It means that these military members and their families could be forced to take on debt to finance these moves — debts that can be quite costly:

  • 66% of active-duty family respondents have unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses related to their most recent PCS move.
  • 55% of those with unreimbursed moving costs reported expenses of over $1,000.

Employment difficulties for military spouses

This survey also found that military spouse employment is among the top five military life concerns for a quarter of active-duty service members — and topped it among active-duty spouses, cited by close to half of those respondents (47%).

For those who want or need to work but can’t, some of the common obstacles include:

  • Service member’s unpredictable (40%) or lengthy (27%) daily work schedules
  • Expensive child care (34%)
  • Time in which the active-duty spouse has been out of the workforce (25%)

Again, relocating because of a PCS order is also an obstacle for military spouses. In fact, a third of employed active-duty spouse respondents say they’ll be looking for a new job in the next year because of such orders.

These barriers to employment for military spouses mean some don’t have the option of both spouses providing income — putting further strain on military families’ wallets. Notably, 68% of unemployed military spouses who are currently looking for employment say their financial situation causes them either “some stress” or a “great deal of stress” — that’s compared to just 44% of employed military spouses.

Military families face unique challenges, especially regarding managing their financial lives. Short of increased support from the military, it’ll take smart, strategic financial planning to overcome those challenges.

Methodology: Blue Star Families surveyed over 8,000 military- and veteran-connected respondents from April to June 2021. The survey was conducted with Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

 

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