FINANCIAL HARDSHIP AMONG VETERANS:
In 2019, there were 120,631 military veterans in Idaho. Overall, a majority of them have fared better economically than nonveterans, in line with a belief that our nation must meet veterans’ basic needs given their service and sacrifice.
Yet in 2019, a substantial 30,019 of those who served our country struggled to make ends meet in Idaho. According to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), 5% of veterans in Idaho (6,160) lived in poverty in 2019. But United For ALICE data shows that another 20% (23,859) — four times as many — were also experiencing financial hardship, in households that earned above the FPL but not enough to afford the basics in the communities where they lived.
The reality is that one-quarter (25%) of all veterans in Idaho lived in a household with income below the ALICE Threshold of Financial Survival in 2019. This includes households in poverty as well as those who were ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE households don’t earn enough to afford housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, a smartphone plan, and taxes — the basics needed to live and work in the modern economy (see Key Terms, pg. 2). This ALICE in Focus Research Brief shows that there are veterans below the ALICE Threshold of all ages, races/ethnicities, and educational levels, in a variety of living arrangements and employment situations. The share of veterans below the ALICE Threshold in Idaho in 2019 ranged from 15% in central Ada County to 34% across Owyhee County and southern Canyon County.
In this Brief, veterans are defined as those who were “on active duty in the past, but not now” as reported in the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). This ALICE research uses the ACS definition and dataset because it is the only public source that includes both veteran status and the information needed to determine a person’s ALICE household status — their household composition, income, and location. The ACS asks whether each member of a household has ever served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves, or National Guard, as outlined in the table below.
This ALICE in Focus analysis does not include:
• Veterans living in Census-defined “group quarters”: This includes 2,386 veterans in Idaho living in non-institutional group quarters (such as college dormitories or group homes) and institutional group quarters (such as nursing homes or correctional facilities). Because the cost of living in these settings differs substantially from the cost of living in a household, the ALICE status of these veterans cannot be determined.
• Veterans experiencing homelessness: The ACS does not fully capture veterans who are not living permanently in households. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-In-Time Estimate of Homelessness reported 178 homeless veterans in Idaho in 2020.
Throughout this Brief, the two primary groups being compared are veterans (on active duty in the past, but not now) and those who never served. This Brief does not include analysis of those currently on active duty or those only on active duty for training in the Reserves/National Guard; additional research may provide interesting findings about hardship in these groups.
Veterans span all categories of age, sex, race/ethnicity, national origin, disability status, educational level, living arrangements, and work status. Nationally, veterans are less likely to have income below the ALICE Threshold (27%) than those who never served in the military (35%); the same is true in Idaho (25% of veterans vs. 32% of those who never served). However, veterans from certain demographic groups — including those that have faced a long history of systemic racism and sexism both within and outside the military — have higher rates of financial hardship. Nationally, compared to veterans overall, there are increased rates of financial hardship for veterans who are female; are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; have a disability; and/or were born outside of the U.S., as well as for other groups — like lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals — who are not fully represented in the ACS data. The intersectionality of these demographic groups further increases financial hardship for veterans with more than one of these identities.
While there are veterans of all ages, older people are more likely to have served because the draft, which lasted from 1948 to 1973, required eligible males to serve. Half of veterans in Idaho were age 65 and older in 2019, split almost evenly between those age 65–74 (31,752) and those age 75 and older (29,196). Among veterans age 64 and under, 40,280 were age 45–64, 18,918 were age 25–44, and 485 were age 17–24.
By age, the youngest and oldest veterans faced the highest rates of financial hardship: In Idaho in 2019, 48% of those under age 25 were below the ALICE Threshold, as were 31% of those age 75 and older. Veterans age 25 and older had lower rates of financial hardship than their counterparts who never served. However, younger veterans had a higher rate: 48% of veterans under age 25 were below the Threshold, compared to 42% of people who never served in that age group.
In 2019, the ACS included only one question on sex with only two options — “male” or “female” — and respondents were not able to report gender identity or sexual orientation. The ALICE data reflects these limited options.
Overall, in 2019, 91% of veterans in Idaho were male (109,694), with only 10,937 female veterans. While the percentage of women in the military has grown steadily over the last few decades, they continue to be under-represented, especially in positions of leadership. Efforts are underway to encourage the participation of women in the armed forces, including strengthening career paths, supporting continuity of service for women after having children, and amplifying women’s military experiences and successes in recruitment efforts.
The rate of financial hardship between sexes, however, was similar in 2019: 25% of male and 26% of female veterans were below the ALICE Threshold in Idaho. This is both a lower rate and a smaller gap than for males and females who never served (30% and 33%, respectively).
Neither the ACS nor the military report data on LGBTQ+ service members or veterans. However, research by other organizations estimates that there are approximately one million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender veterans in the U.S. The easing of discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ service personnel has contributed to a more diverse and inclusive military. However, many military policies related to LGBTQ+ service members are still in flux, and LGBTQ+ people both within and outside of the armed forces continue to face systemic challenges, such as discrimination in employment, higher rates of mental health conditions, and limited access to LGBTQ+ inclusive health care and community services.
People of all racial/ethnic groups serve in the military, and those who have served since 9/11 are even more diverse than their predecessors. In 2019, veterans in Idaho were 91% White, 5% Hispanic, and less than 1% Asian (the only groups with a large enough veteran population to report in this Research Brief). The largest number of veterans below the ALICE Threshold was found in the largest racial group: 26,421 veterans below the Threshold were White.
Yet by percentage, Asian and Hispanic veterans faced higher rates of financial hardship as a result of persistent racism, discrimination, and systemic barriers that limit these veterans’ access to resources and opportunities for financial stability. In Idaho in 2019, 44% of Hispanic veterans and 53% of Asian veterans lived in households below the ALICE Threshold, compared to 24% of White veterans. White and Hispanic veterans were less likely to face financial hardship than their counterparts who never served, while Asian veterans were substantially more likely to be below the Threshold than Asian people who never served.
Both English-speaking ability and whether an individual was born outside of the U.S. also have an impact on veteran hardship. Veterans born outside of the U.S. made up only 1% of all veterans in Idaho in 2019 but were slightly more likely to be below the ALICE Threshold (27%) than veterans born in the U.S. (25%). Rates of financial hardship were considerably higher
(63%) for the 208 Idaho veterans living in a household with limited English-speaking ability.
As a result of medical advances, military personnel are now more likely to survive a significant injury in combat, thereby increasing the number of veterans living with service-related disabilities. In 2019, 24% of veterans in Idaho reported service-related disabilities as defined by having a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating. More generally, one third of veterans (33%) reported having a disability (whether service-related or not), defined by the ACS as a cognitive, hearing, vision, or ambulatory disability, or one that makes self-care or independent living difficult.
Veterans with disabilities were more likely to face financial hardship in 2019: 31% lived in a household with income below the ALICE Threshold, compared to 22% of both veterans without disabilities and veterans with service-related disabilities. But their rate of hardship was still much lower than for people with disabilities in Idaho who never served (47%). This is in part a reflection of the additional services many veterans with disabilities receive — such as disability compensation for those with service-related disabilities, and other benefits from the VA — as well as broader public assistance programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Medicaid.
In 2019, the number of veterans with disabilities in Idaho increased steadily with age, from fewer than 2,200 veterans with disabilities under the age of 45 to nearly 16,000 who were age 75 and older. The rate of financial hardship was highest for the oldest veterans with disabilities: 33% of veterans with disabilities age 65–74 and 35% of veterans with disabilities age 75+ were below the Threshold, compared to 17% of veterans with disabilities age 17–24.
In 2019, veterans in Idaho were more likely than those who never served to have a high school diploma (97% vs. 91%). These findings are not surprising, as a high school diploma or equivalent is part of the enlistment criteria for the armed forces.
Yet because the majority of veterans enroll in the military soon after high school, it often takes them longer to attain post-secondary educational goals. In 2019, more than half (56%) of veterans in Idaho over the age of 25 had not completed post-secondary education, despite VA benefits that help veterans with educational needs — like paying tuition, finding the right school or training program, and getting career counseling. Over half of veterans (53%) had only a high school diploma or GED in 2019, compared to 51% of those who never served. Among people who achieved a post-secondary degree, veterans were slightly more likely than those who never served to attain an associate degree (31% vs. 26%) but less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree (42% vs. 49%).
However, across all educational levels from high school on, veterans in Idaho were slightly less likely than those who never served to be below the ALICE Threshold. For example, 30% of veterans age 25 and older who graduated high school but didn’t complete post-secondary education were below the ALICE Threshold in Idaho in 2019, compared to 33% of their peers who never served.
There were also disparities by sex. Among veterans with only a high school degree, females were more likely than males to be below the ALICE Threshold (46% vs. 29%). But among veterans with an associate or bachelor’s degree, the trend reversed, with 6% of female veterans below the Threshold, compared to 21% of male veterans.
Employment: In Idaho in 2019, there were 44,061 veterans age 17–64 in the labor force, accounting for 5% of the total labor force population. Most Idahoans age 17–64 were in the labor force (78%), but veterans in this group were more likely to have the stability of full-time employment (87%) than those who never served (75%).
Whether working full or part time, veterans were less likely to be below the ALICE Threshold than people who never served: 14% of veterans working full time were below the ALICE Threshold, compared to 21% of full-time workers who never served. For veterans who worked part time, the rate of financial hardship was 23%, compared to 39% for part-time workers who never served.
Overall, veterans facing financial hardship were concentrated in occupations with low median hourly wages. In 2019, the some of the most common occupations for veterans below the ALICE Threshold in Idaho included delivery/sales driver (median wage of $15.75 per hour), laborer/mover ($13.92), bus driver ($16.18), and retail salesperson ($12.13). Of these occupations, veterans working as laborers/movers or bus drivers had the highest rates of financial hardship, with 38% and 62% below the Threshold, respectively.
Military service can also impact employment and advancement opportunities for spouses and partners. For example, nationally, military spouses (nearly 90% of whom are female) are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed compared to their civilian peers. Even after their spouses’ service has ended, challenges — like frequent relocation during prime earning years — can limit career advancement and overall earnings.
Unemployment: Thanks to public and private efforts to prioritize hiring for veterans, there is a relatively low veteran unemployment rate in Idaho in 2019 (3%), the same as for people who never served. Unemployment rates were only slightly lower for veterans with disabilities than for people with disabilities who never served (2% vs. 3%). Nonetheless, many veterans with disabilities face barriers to employment, including discrimination, accessibility issues, income and asset limits for public benefits programs, and transportation challenges.
Out of Labor Force: Just over one-fourth (26%) of veterans in Idaho age 17–64 (15,622) were out of the labor force (not employed and not looking for work) in 2019, higher than the rate for those who never served (22%). Yet veterans out of the labor force were less likely to be below the ALICE Threshold than those who never served (32% vs. 50%).
In Idaho in 2019, 63% of veterans with disabilities (age 17–64) were out of the labor force compared to 16% of veterans without disabilities. Veterans with disabilities (age 17–64) were also less likely to be working than people with disabilities who never served (35% vs. 45%).
Seniors: Seniors (age 65 and over) in Idaho are staying in the labor force longer, and in 2019, 15% of senior veterans were in the labor force (lower than the rate for seniors who never served, at 19%). Of seniors in the labor force in Idaho, 25% of veterans were below the ALICE Threshold compared to 17% of seniors who never served.
Support Workers for Veterans: Many veterans, especially older veterans and those with disabilities, rely on direct care workers or direct support professionals, who provide support for daily living and other essential activities. For years, both fields have faced significant challenges hiring and retaining staff, a situation made even more difficult by the pandemic as providers compete with offers of less demanding entry-level work at higher wages. For example, in the direct care field, made up of workers who are primarily women and people of color, and often immigrants, staffing challenges were heightened during the pandemic as workers faced increased levels of uncertainty and physical and mental stress. In Idaho in 2019, home health aides and personal care aides earned $11.14 per hour.
Veterans who are ALICE live in households of varying size and composition. Both of these factors impact financial stability, as do marital status and presence of children.
Two-thirds (66%) of veterans in Idaho (79,643) were married in 2019, 29% (35,439) were single, and 5% (5,549) were in an unmarried partnership. Rates of financial hardship differed across these groups: 19% of married veterans, 25% of veterans in unmarried partnerships, and 38% of single veterans were below the ALICE Threshold in 2019.
Having children slightly increased the likelihood of financial hardship for veterans. Of the 21,197 veterans living in households with children in Idaho in 2019, 27% were below the ALICE Threshold, compared to 25% of all veterans.
Veterans in Idaho age 17–24 were slightly more likely to live with their parents than their peers who never served (55% vs. 53%).
Overall, the most common household size for veterans in Idaho was two, compared to three for people who never served. However, 21,937 veterans (18% of all veterans) lived alone in Idaho in 2019. Veterans with disabilities in the state were more likely than veterans without disabilities to live alone: Nearly 8,500 veterans with disabilities lived alone in 2019. And veterans who lived alone were more likely to be below the ALICE Threshold (42%) than veterans who lived with one or more other people (21%).
Senior veterans (age 65+) in Idaho lived alone at even higher rates than veterans age 17–64 (20% vs. 16%). And senior veterans who lived alone were far more likely to be below the ALICE Threshold (53%) than those living with one or more other people (24%).
ACCESS TO RESOURCES
Despite public and private programs that support veterans in areas such as employment, housing, access to health services, education, and public transportation, some veterans still lack access to basic resources. This is especially true for veterans with disabilities or mental health issues who need accessible services. Veterans below the ALICE Threshold are more likely to lack access to stable housing, health insurance, and reliable technology. At the same time, many veterans who struggle to afford the basics are not eligible for public assistance programs. When these household necessities are at risk, there are both short- and long-term cumulative consequences.
Housing stability has a profound positive impact on overall well-being. People who live in owner-occupied housing are less likely to move and more likely to build assets over time.
Homeowners: Overall, most veterans in Idaho (82%, 99,225) lived in owner-occupied housing units in 2019, a higher rate than for those who never served (73%).This may be in part due to home loans available through the Veterans Benefits Administration, which make it easier for qualified veterans to purchase a home as they require no down payment and offer low interest rates and limited closing costs. In 2019 alone, there were 3,444 VA purchase loans in Idaho. Yet homeownership alone does not ensure financial stability: 21% of veterans living in owner-occupied housing were below the ALICE Threshold.
There were also large differences in homeownership by income. Not surprisingly, veterans below the ALICE Threshold had a lower homeownership rate than veterans above the Threshold (69% vs. 87%).
Renters: In 2019, 18% of veterans (21,406) lived in rental housing in Idaho. Veterans who rent had higher rates of financial hardship (43% below the Threshold) than veterans who lived in owner-occupied housing (21%).
In 2019, veterans below the ALICE Threshold in Idaho who were young or Hispanic were more likely to be renters: 52% of veterans age 25–44 below the Threshold were renters, as were 51% of Hispanic veterans below the Threshold. In comparison, 30% of veterans age 75 and older below the Threshold and 29% of White veterans below the Threshold were renters.
Cost Burden: Veterans who are housing cost burdened (paying more than 35% of income on rent or mortgage plus utilities, taxes, and insurance) are more likely to experience housing insecurity and are therefore also at greater risk of becoming homeless. Overall, 58% of veterans below the ALICE Threshold in rental housing and 38% of veterans below the Threshold in owner-occupied housing in Idaho were cost burdened in 2019. These rates of housing cost burden were higher than for people below the Threshold who never served (51% for renters and 34% for owners who never served). Rates of cost burden for veterans above the Threshold were much lower (9% cost burden for renters and 5% for owners).
Rent burden and housing cost burden for veterans below the ALICE Threshold varied acoss Pacific Northwest states. Rent burden for veterans below the Threshold was highest in Oregon (62%) and lowest in Idaho (58%). Owner cost burden was the highest in Washington (46%), with both Idaho and Oregon at 38%.
Access to the internet, digital devices, and assistive technology can be a lifeline for veterans, yet there are digital divides by income, race/ethnicity, disability status, and location. While internet access has become almost ubiquitous across the U.S., in Idaho in 2019, veterans below the ALICE Threshold had some of the lowest access rates, even to the most common technological device: a smartphone. Only 72% of veterans below the Threshold in Idaho had a smartphone, compared to 87% of people below the Threshold who never served. In addition, veterans are more likely to have disabilities, and people with disabilities are less likely than people without to own a computer or to have internet access. Veterans are also overrepresented in rural communities, where internet access is generally less available.
Nationwide in 2019, 89% of veterans had some type of internet access at home, compared to 91% in Idaho. Rates were lower for veterans below the ALICE Threshold in Idaho (79%), and lower still for veterans with disabilities below the Threshold (70%). And with the increase in remote work and education, a high-speed internet connection has become more important; yet only 67% of veterans in Idaho had high-speed internet in 2019, and that percentage decreased to 47% for those below the ALICE Threshold. The rate was even lower for veterans with disabilities below the Threshold (37%) who would especially benefit from access to technology, from assistive devices to telemedicine.
Access to high-speed internet for veterans below the ALICE Threshold varied across Pacific Northwest states, ranging from 47% in Idaho to 66% in Washington.
For a variety of reasons, public assistance does not reach all people in households that are struggling. While most people in poverty are eligible, those in ALICE households often earn too much to qualify for assistance. In addition, income and asset limits for public assistance can create “benefits cliffs” that limit economic mobility.
For example, the income eligibility threshold for one of the most far-reaching public assistance programs in the U.S., the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), is generally 130% of the FPL. Even though all veterans living in households with income below the FPL should be covered by SNAP, only 32% of veterans in poverty (1,998), and a mere 13% of veterans in ALICE households (3,112), participated in this program in Idaho in 2019. This means that despite efforts to increase veterans’ utilization — including reducing stigma, increasing awareness, and targeting groups at risk of food insufficiency — nearly 25,000 veterans whose families were struggling to make ends meet in Idaho did not participate in SNAP. SNAP coverage of veterans below the ALICE Threshold was similar in Idaho (17%), Washington (18%), and Oregon (19%).
The VA provides disability compensation for an illness or injury that was caused by or became worse due to active military service. Benefits are based on the severity of the veteran’s service-connected disabilities; the more severe the disability, the higher the VA disability rating, up to a maximum of 100%. Yet even with a 50% rating, which covers disabilities such as PTSD, impaired memory, and panic attacks, in 2019, the amount of the disability benefit did not come close to covering the cost of the ALICE Household Survival Budget anywhere in Idaho. For example, a veteran with a disability rating of 50% living with a spouse and a child received only $12,316 in 2019. The actual cost of basic needs was several times that, with the average Household Survival Budget for a family of three ranging from just over $41,100 in Minidoka County to nearly $55,000 in Blaine County.
Veterans with disabilities may also be eligible for Social Security Administration benefits along with or as an alternative to their VA benefits. Unlike VA benefits, SSI and SSDI do not require a recipient’s disability to be service-related. Yet to qualify, the disability must be expected to last for 12 months or longer and impact gainful employment. Veterans may also access Medicaid and Medicare health benefits when eligible for SSI and SSDI. Yet rules for participation are complex and impact payments and participation. For example, in 2019, only 5% of veterans below the ALICE Threshold in the U.S. received SSI payments.
Access to health insurance is critical to both wellness and financial stability for veterans. Almost all veterans in Idaho (98%) had some form of health insurance in 2019, and many had more than one type. Because of Medicare, all senior veterans in Idaho had health insurance. For veterans under age 65, 4% had no health insurance, a much lower rate than for people who never served (16%). Of veterans without health insurance in Idaho, 22% were below the ALICE Threshold.
Most veterans under age 65 in Idaho had private health insurance (80%), a higher rate than among those who never served (76%). Of veterans with private insurance in this age group, 15% were below the ALICE Threshold.
At the same time, 9,412 veterans under age 65 in Idaho relied on public health insurance (Medicaid and/or Medicare) or military health plans (TRICARE and/or VA health care) in 2019. Of those, nearly half (48%) were below the ALICE Threshold. However, not all veterans struggling to make ends meet were covered by these health insurance programs: 38% of veterans age 17–64 and living below the ALICE Threshold in Idaho (4,555) were not enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare, TRICARE, or VA health care.
Veterans with disabilities may have extra health care needs and constraints to their earning potential. Therefore, not surprisingly, veterans with disabilities living below the Threshold in Idaho were more likely to be enrolled in a TRICARE/VA program than veterans without disabilities below the Threshold (59% vs. 47%).