What We Already Know is Official

(U.S. Air Force photo by Chustine Minoda)

Separation, military spouse employment, children’s education, family building, and finances are some of the biggest issues currently affecting military families according to the latest Blue Star Families survey. Most military spouses will probably read that and think, “Tell us something we don’t already know.” But the report proves that if you are a military spouse struggling with the lifestyle, you are not alone. 

Also, the study breaks down certain issues to see just how common they are. The survey is the largest and most comprehensive survey of active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members, veterans, and their families.

The Blue Star Families 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey released earlier this month is called “The Military Family Experience: Back to the Basics.” Blue Star Families CEO, Kathy Roth-Douquet explains, “It is those basic building blocks of health, physical and mental health, economic security, food insecurity, housing insecurity that we’ve seen. A lot of it is this broken lifestyle of moving over and over again. And so that’s what we dove into this year.” 

Being Apart

Separation is historically the biggest challenge for military families. The struggle remains the same in 2022, even though technology has provided us with better communication than military spouses of the past. Blue Star Families reports 80% of active-duty respondents have been separated from their family/service member in the past 18 months due to military service. 

“Overall, it has been an overwhelming experience,” said Isabelle Meyers, a brand new Air Force spouse experiencing her first deployment. “Unfortunately, our first year of marriage is filled with moments of panic where I do not know how to do things, rather than going on our honeymoon and enjoying our first year of marriage.” 

One in 10 military spouse respondents has experienced one or more unhealthy relationship behaviors in the past year. Research consistently points to separation as the main stressor for military families, but the secondary stressors are likely what is sending families away from the military service. “If the family itself is suffering from continuing in military service in this all-volunteer force, people will simply choose not to continue to serve,” Roth-Douquet said. 

Spouse Unemployment 

Military spouse unemployment is the number one concern for active-duty respondents in the Blue Star Families survey. A whopping 43% of active duty families are concerned about the lack of employment for spouses. Thirty-nine percent of spouse respondents said they aren’t working because their service members’ daily work schedule is too “unpredictable.” One out of three active-duty spouses reported not working because of the high cost of child care. 

The study also reports that “relocation remains a top barrier; a third of employed active-duty spouse respondents who report that they will be looking for a new job in the next 12 months will be doing so due to a relocation/ permanent change of station.” 

The study highlighted Leslie Wightman, a military spouse who is currently part of a Blue Star Families program designed to help spouses reenter the workforce after a significant time away. Wightman said, “I didn’t leave the workforce because I didn’t love my job. I left the workforce because that is what worked best for our family, our transient family.” And military families are often unable to achieve financial stability when one spouse can’t maintain a second income, the study said.

Financial Instability 

The Blue Star Families study claims 48% of active-duty respondents report that their financial situation causes them stress. Furthermore, 24% of active duty families have issues with the military pay rate. Military spouse unemployment, student loans, and out-of-pocket relocation costs are the top contributing factors to financial stress according to the survey. The report also mentions more than half of active-duty respondents owe more than $25,000 in student loans. Another staggering statistic: More than half of active-duty respondents report credit card debt from month to month ranging from less than $1,000 to over $20,000. 

MilSpouseFest is hosting a Military Saves Month Cast on April 7th at Noon (EST). Topics will include building up a nest egg and more. RSVP here for free:  https://bit.ly/MSFNCRUniteandIgnite

Military Children 

The health and well-being of a child are always a parent’s top priority. Parents of military children face unique challenges that civilian counterparts never experience. Thirty-one percent of active-duty respondents listed their child’s education as a top issue affecting their family. The report also claims, “nearly two-thirds (61%) of active-duty family respondents report their oldest child is thriving in school, and 54% feel a sense of belonging to their school, but these educational experiences may be offset due to factors related to military life (such as relocation) and the current delivery method of education (such as virtual or hybrid schooling).” 

The number of military families homeschooling is on the rise, up to 13% in 2021. Respondents report the rise in homeschooling is an aftereffect of COVID-19. The report lists stabilizing a child’s academic experience, flexibility to spend time together, avoiding poor quality school options, and avoiding COVID-19 closures as the top reasons respondents chose to homeschool. 

Family Building  

The report also confirms some 67% of military-connected family respondents report challenges with family building. Ellen Gustafson, a military spouse and co-founder of the Military Family Building Coalition, has a genetic condition and required IVF for pregnancy. “My experience in hearing stories of people going through fertility issues in the military really motivated me to know, and it wasn’t just me,” she said in response to the study. “It was a widespread issue not being handled by military healthcare.” 

The report claims 11% of active duty service member respondents said “family-building challenges” are one of the reasons they would leave the military. Gustafson went on to say “there is a gaping hole for those families trying to have children. Never before have we ever seen that problem for what it is and tried to fix it.” 

Researchers hope the report draws attention to the unique challenges military families face. “By taking that pulse, that temperature as often as we do, we can see what’s going on and surge the response where we need it,” Roth-Douquet explains. 

Read the Blue Star Families 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, “The Military Family Experience: Back to the Basics” in full here. You can also join MilSpouseFest at our next event in the National Capital Region in person or virtually where we’ll tackle some of these issues for military spouses. Sign up here.