Published: July 16, 2021
Meet Brittney. She’s a Marine Corps spouse, mom of two, and the Financial Wellness DEPLOY Fellow for Blue Star Families, a position made possible by the support of J.P. Morgan Chase. Why financial wellness? Well, you may be surprised to learn that many military families experience a great deal of financial distress. In fact, 39% of active-duty family respondents to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey list financial issues as a top stressor for their family. That percentage jumps to 47% when you look specifically at Veteran families. Why is that a major problem? Because we know when there’s stress at home, mission readiness suffers.
As a former military dependent, with her dad having served 24 years in the Navy, Brittney is all too familiar with the financial strains military families face. “As a military child, I saw how much my parents sacrificed,” Brittney shared. “Especially my mother. The long work hours for the service members, the deployments and time away, moving frequently — It can be very difficult for a military spouse to find and maintain viable employment. When you also deal with moving to a new area and don’t see other spouses who look like you; It makes you feel invisible and oftentimes disregarded in certain spaces.”
Just how bad is the financial stress that some military families are facing? Bad enough that, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 14% of enlisted military families report facing food insecurity. A contributing factor leading to that insecurity is military spouse unemployment. When looking at enlisted families with spouses who want to work, but are currently unemployed, the percentage of families facing food insecurity jumps to 20%. With frequent moves and managing household and family demands alone during deployments, it can be very challenging for military spouses to maintain employment. In addition, those moves often mean out-of-pocket expenses, further complicating the financial position for service members and their families.
Brittney has seen firsthand what financial distress can do to a community. “I started my career in education as a Teach For America teacher in southern Louisiana,” Brittney said. “This is where I was inspired to become a counselor. My students experienced so much trauma and disadvantages. Their resilience, despite a lack of resources, pushed me to get involved and do more to help.” After finishing her Teach For America experience, Brittney went back to school to obtain degrees in both school counseling and clinical mental health. Upon graduating, Brittney took on counseling roles within schools, as well as community-based organizations working with special needs families, and ultimately became a financial counselor for military families.
Through her work, Brittney started noticing a problem: diverse families weren’t always getting the important help and resources available to them. That matters, especially considering that, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, the spouse unemployment rate is higher in active-duty spouse respondents of color; 27%, compared to 17% of their white, non-Hispanic counterparts. “It takes dedication, creativity, and representation for families of color to feel a sense of belonging and connection to resources,” Brittney shared. “That’s what is missing! If all of the people on a flyer promoting a resource are white and I identify as a BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color], why bother? If there is no representation or diversity within support organizations, then the perspective of the organization will be limited, and people may not feel comfortable approaching them for help.” Brittney’s observations are correct. According to the Resilience Under Stress Study, military families of color are more likely to experience financial stress, and are less likely to hear about support and resources available to them.
That’s why Blue Star Families stepped in to help. “DEPLOY Fellows is a Blue Star Program within the Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative (REI) designed to diversify and expand the pipeline of leaders in the military community,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO and Founder of Blue Star Families. “The effort will embed and train individuals from historically underrepresented populations into Blue Star Families’ organization as paid staff in national and Chapter roles. Through our training, we’ll seed a new generation of leaders throughout the veteran and military family support space, increasing representation and more effectively addressing the needs of families of color.”
Thanks to the partnership with J.P. Morgan Chase, by joining the team as the Financial Wellness DEPLOY Fellow, Brittney will be able to dive in, and provide the assistance and support to get military families on track to being financially fit. “As a DEPLOY Fellow, I am excited to make connections with diverse leaders throughout San Diego to form important partnerships,” Brittney said. “I hope, by seeing themselves in me, families of color will be inspired to volunteer and share their experiences to ignite sustained change. I plan to aid in bridging the wealth gap in minority military communities, strengthen support for minority-owned and minority-spouse-owned businesses, and ultimately work towards my goal of advocating for all military families on the financial issues and barriers that we experience, especially in high-cost areas, to local and state officials and even Congress.”
By strengthening military families through strong communities of support, Blue Star Families ensures military readiness at home and abroad. Brittney and the other DEPLOY Fellows play a crucial role in making certain that all military families benefit from that support.
The Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative and DEPLOY Fellows Program were created after hearing from and listening to military families like yours. And we don’t want to stop there. Take the survey to share your diverse experience as a military family of color. Tell us what challenges your family continues to face and opportunities you are looking for to enrich life as a military family. Together we can impact change.