INSIGHT: Blue Star Families’ Annual Survey: Military Families Are Key

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Military families are assets — not only to our national defense but also to local communities. They are central to the strength and capability of the all-volunteer force and are good neighbors who are actively engaged in making their civilian communities great places to live. The common adage is now more relevant than ever: The services recruit the service member, but they retain the military family.


Blue Star Families conducted its seventh annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey in spring 2016 with more than 8,000 active-duty service members, veterans and military family members participating. One clear and consistent theme emerged this year: Military families are integral to the success of the Department of Defense (DoD) goals for recruitment, retention, readiness and reintegration.


The findings show that current military family programs, designed to provide support during higher operational tempos, are sometimes inconsistent across the branches and installations. Military families are a structural component of the force, and we need leaders to remember that when they are designing programs and integrating them into defense policy and analysis. Doing so may help ensure our nation’s security and improve the ability of the DoD to meet its goals.


Here are the top concerns as reported by this year’s survey respondents:


Financial Readiness: Financial insecurity continues to be a top concern and has been shown to undermine military readiness and retention. Thirty-seven percent of respondents feel insecure about their financial future, and 63% are experiencing stress due to their current financial situation.


Top financial obstacles:

  • Saving for the future (69%)
  • Living/moving costs (64%)
  • Spouse unemployment/underemployment (52%)
  • Uncertainty of military life (53%)
  • Low income or limited knowledge of money management (42%) 

Most active-duty respondents (88%) feel that financial readiness training should be more personalized for the specific needs of each family, and 81% of them feel that spouses should be included in unit-level financial readiness training. Financial readiness is critical to mission readiness because financial stress can distract service members, distress family members and harm retention.


Spouse employment: Twenty-one percent of active-duty spouses who are unemployed had actively sought work within four weeks of taking the survey. For families with children under 18, only 48% of military families earn two incomes, compared with two-thirds of civilian families. A weak job market, frequent moves, military job demands and lack of child care were listed as contributing factors. The Blue Star Families’ 2016 “Social Cost Analysis of the Unemployment and Underemployment of Military Spouses” study determined that these negative employment conditions have broad implications and could cost the U.S. economy as much as $1 billion per year. Military families with employed spouses experience greater financial security, better mental health and higher satisfaction with the military lifestyle. An employed spouse also can help with the transition to civilian life by enabling the service member to spend more time looking for the right job.


Quality of Life: While financial issues were of greatest concern, quality of life concerns filled out respondents’ top worries. They include:

  • Impact of military service on children: There was a 57% increase in active-duty and military spouse respondents who indicated that the affect of deployments on children was among their top five concerns.
  • Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): Allowance cuts may negatively affect military children’s education. Like civilian families, many military families rent or buy homes based on the quality of the local public schools. BAH reductions may hinder the ability to live in high quality school districts — especially when families are assigned to duty stations with very high costs of living. Military children face unique challenges. On average, they attend six to nine schools before 12th grade due to permanent change of station moves, and respondents said nearly half of the schools their children attended were aware of the Interstate Compact of Educational Opportunity, which is meant to provide more consistent educational policies across moves. So BAH cuts can hit military children particularly hard.
  • Family separations: Despite troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, military families continue to experience high rates of separation from their service members. Forty-two percent of military families report experiencing more than six months of family separation in the past 18 months. Sixteen percent of families have a member currently deployed, and more than a third of military couples reported relationship challenges in the past year due to worry over future deployments.
  • Ops tempo: Service members and their families (72%) feel the current ops tempo, including training and deployments, is unsustainable and threatens the health of their families. Our obligations around the globe have kept operations on a surge status for many years, and there’s no apparent reduction in our commitments on the horizon. Respondents said the current ops tempo exerts an unacceptable level of stress for a healthy work-life balance.


As military families, we understand that this lifestyle brings challenges, and more than 8,000 of us have shared our stories through participation in the 2016 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. The findings from our collective voices provide a framework through which our national leaders and local communities can better understand why supporting military families isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also the smart thing.


Military members and spouses should work together on financial planning. More than 80% of military spouses already help manage their family’s finances. Discover your Financial Readiness Score to see how you can set goals, plan and take action.


Access advice tools, checklists and other resources for your military life:



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