Black Veterans Struggling More Financially Than White Veterans, Two Studies Show

More than one-quarter of veterans are struggling to afford basic costs of living, and Black veterans are struggling more than white veterans.

That’s the picture of a pair of studies released recently paint of veterans’ financial status. Although the studies show disparity based on race in the veteran community, veterans as a whole are doing better financially than the general population.

One study, released by Rand Corp., found that Black veterans have a higher quality of life than Black Americans who never served in the military, but that they’re still behind economically compared to white Americans, regardless of military service.

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Separately, an analysis of census data released by the United Way of Northern New Jersey’s United for ALICE project found that 27% of all veterans are struggling to afford basic necessities of modern living. When broken down by race, 35% of Black veterans face financial hardships, compared to 25% of white veterans, according to the analysis.

“There continue to be gaps by race and ethnicity among veterans, but those gaps were a little bit smaller than the overall population,” Stephanie Hoopes, United for ALICE’s national director, said in an interview. “What is the veteran support and experience that’s helped close some of those gaps, and why aren’t they able to fully close them? Those are a couple of really interesting questions I think that the research raises.”

Based on the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, the most recent year available to the organization, 6% of veterans are living below the federal poverty level, according to United for ALICE’s analysis released Friday.

Another 21% of veterans are below the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — or ALICE — threshold, according to the analysis. That means those veterans make more than the federal poverty line but still can’t afford housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, a smartphone plan and taxes.

The COVID-19 pandemic likely exacerbated the financial hardships, according to United for ALICE, which also analyzed responses to the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking in late 2021. In that data set, 29% of veterans below the ALICE threshold reported being worse off than a year before and 33% said they were worse off than two years before.

Still, the number of veterans below the federal poverty level and ALICE threshold is lower than the 35% of people below those lines who never served in the military, according to the analysis. That’s because veterans are more likely to own homes, be employed full time and have access to health insurance through the Department of Veterans Affairs or Tricare, Hoopes said.

But because federal assistance is often tied to the poverty line, there still appears to be a gap in assistance available to veterans below the ALICE threshold, she said. For example, while 29% of veterans in poverty have accessed the food stamp program known as SNAP, just 12% of ALICE veterans can access it.

“There’s this gap of people who are still struggling and yet aren’t eligible for things like food stamps to disability assistance to some of the health care benefits that are available,” Hoopes said.

While Black veterans are struggling more financially than white veterans, the disparity is higher among non-veterans. According to the analysis, 51% of non-veteran Black Americans are below the federal poverty line and ALICE threshold, compared with the 35% of Black veterans.

Meanwhile, Rand released a study Wednesday looking specifically at how military service affects the quality of life for Black Americans.

The Rand study, which looked at several data sets including the 2021 American Community Survey, found that, while military service was associated with some better outcomes for Black Americans, there is still economic inequity compared to white Americans, regardless of military service.

For example, while Black veterans reported earning more than $10,000 annually above the incomes of Black Americans who hadn’t served, they still had lower incomes than white male veterans and non-veterans, according to the report. Black female veterans did earn more than white female civilians, though.

The need for food assistance is also lower among Black veterans than Black non-veterans, but higher than all white Americans, according to the report. For men, 11.7% of Black veterans receive SNAP benefits, compared with 17.9% of Black non-veterans, 4.8% of white veterans and 6.2% of white non-veterans.

The pattern also holds for homeownership. Rand found 58.8% of Black veterans owned homes, which is higher than the 39.9% of Black non-veteran homeowners but lower than the 70.5% of white non-veteran and 79.9% of white veteran homeowners.

“Our preliminary exploration of outcomes from nationally representative surveys suggests that, for many Black Americans, military service is associated with many positive aspects compared with the life they might have had without ever serving,” the report said. “However, it is still striking that, in general, Black Americans do worse than their white counterparts across many of the outcomes we examined. Improving the health and well-being of Black people and other marginalized individuals should be an important priority toward a more just society.”

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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