Report: Local veterans more likely to be able to afford cost of living than civilians

Dec. 6—Veterans in Frederick County and across Maryland are more likely than their civilian counterparts to be able to afford the basic cost of living, according to a recent report from the United Way of Northern New Jersey.

The report — the first published by United Way that specifically focuses on veterans experiencing financial hardship — provides data from 2019 on veteran populations in each state and in hundreds of local communities.

Locally, 20% of the 15,750 veterans living in Frederick County are considered "ALICE," an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and includes people who work, but are unable to afford basic necessities in the communities where they live.

That's 17 percentage points lower than the share of overall Frederick County households that are considered ALICE, according to data from the local United Way chapter.

Frederick County's rate of ALICE veterans is also lower than the statewide and national rates, which are 24% and 27%, respectively.

Ken Oldham, president and CEO of the United Way of Frederick County, was cheered by the report.

It has its limits, he acknowledged in an interview on Monday with The Frederick News-Post. The data that researchers used to compile the report doesn't include veterans living in group quarters or who are homeless.

The report also features data from the year before COVID-19 fundamentally reshaped the economic and social landscape.

Still, Oldham said, the report provides important insight and will serve as a valuable baseline when United Way updates it with new data in the coming years.

"It's important to understand where we are now and the trends that we're seeing," he said, "and make some decisions as a community about, 'What is the acceptable level of ALICE within our local veteran ranks?'"

Many veterans advocates in the area would say the answer to that question is "none," Oldham said.

The report highlighted inequities among veterans in Frederick County, as well as across the state and country.

Locally, 17% of white veterans were considered ALICE in 2019, compared to 35% of Black veterans and 30% of Hispanic veterans.

The gap between each group was smaller statewide than in the county — 23% for white veterans, compared to 25% for Black veterans and 21% for Hispanic veterans.

The local ALICE rate was even more striking outside Frederick City for Black veterans — 85% — and inside Frederick City for Hispanic veterans — 78%.

Those two data points were anomalies that especially stuck out to Oldham when he was reviewing the report. He expressed hope that organizations providing services to veterans in Frederick County would use the information to more effectively target outreach efforts and programming.

Among the most interesting findings of the report, Oldham said, is the fact veterans within communities of color have significantly lower ALICE rates than people of their same ethnic or racial group who have never served.

In Maryland, Hispanic civilians have the highest ALICE rate — 55% — compared to civilians of other racial and ethnic groups. But at 21%, Hispanic veterans have the second lowest rate compared to veterans of other groups.

The gap also appears among Black and Asian Marylanders. Black veterans had an ALICE rate of 25% in the state, whereas Black civilians had a rate of 42%. For Asian Marylanders, the rate was 20% for veterans and 32% for civilians.

The disparity, however, doesn't extend to white Marylanders or those who are two or more races, according to the report.

Correlation does not imply causation, Oldham said, but there are many possible explanations for why this difference may appear among communities of color in Maryland.

The federal government sponsors programs for previous service members that assist them in pursuing higher education and becoming homeowners — two traits that increase a person's chances of being able to afford basic essentials.

As someone who is an advocate for ALICE families, Oldham said he was bolstered by the finding.

"Communities of color have a real opportunity here," he said. "What this data says to me is that communities of color who volunteer for the military have the potential of working their way out of ALICE more effectively and potentially faster than their non-veteran counterparts."

"This may be one of the ways in which the cycle can be broken," he added, referring to the challenges low-income people face in advancing financially.

Danny Farrar, founder and executive director of Platoon 22, a local nonprofit that addresses suicide among veterans, had some unanswered questions after reading the report.

He'd like to know more about the ALICE status of veteran households, rather than only individual veterans. Spouses of veterans often have to make career sacrifices because of their partner's service, which could result in them making less money in the long run, Farrar said.

He'd also like more information about the ALICE status of veterans who die by suicide. The rate of veteran suicide has continued to drop after peaking in 2018, but remains higher than the civilian population.

However, like Oldham, Farrar said he was encouraged overall by what researchers found.

"It's nice to see a report that shows something good for a change," he said.

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier