Veterans Living Paycheck to Paycheck Are Under Threat During Budget Debates

A giant American flag hangs on the wall of Potter's Lane, an apartment complex made out of recycled shipping containers just for homeless veterans, August 2017.

President Donald Trump and congressional Republican leaders have promised to “take care” of America’s veterans—but the congressional and presidential budgets, which will be debated this fall, threaten several programs that help ensure basic living standards for veterans and their families, including Medicaid, affordable housing programs, job training, and nutrition assistance. Rather than taking care of America’s veterans and their families, the budget resolution is expected to pave the way for massive tax cuts, 61 percent of which would benefit the richest 1 percent of Americans.

The sad reality is that veterans’ needs are not fully addressed by veteran-specific benefits and services—even with current federal and local Department of Veterans Affairs supports, far too many veterans and their families continue to struggle to meet their basic needs regarding housing, nutrition, health care, and more. In fact, new analysis by the Center for American Progress reveals that 3.9 million veterans—more than 1 in 5—are living paycheck to paycheck at 200 percent of or less than the federal poverty level. These veterans are especially at risk because of this administration’s budget proposals.

Certain groups of veterans are particularly threatened. Economic insecurity is disproportionately high for many veterans of color. Thirty-seven percent of Native American veterans, 30 percent of African American veterans, and 26 percent of Latino veterans are living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 20 percent of white, non-Hispanic veterans. While Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) veterans experience a lower rate of economic insecurity—18 percent—certain ethnic groups of AAPI veterans, including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian veterans, face increased economic insecurity.*

Young veterans, many of whom have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, also face particular challenges. One-third of veterans ages 18 to 29 live paycheck to paycheck, compared with 22 percent of veterans ages 30 to 44, 21 percent of veterans ages 45 to 64, and 20 percent of veterans ages 65 and older. Veterans with disabilities are also especially likely to be economically insecure, with 29 percent living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 21 percent of veterans overall. Twenty-five percent of female veterans are economically insecure, compared with 21 percent of male veterans.

Veterans in certain states are especially vulnerable. At least one-quarter of veterans live paycheck to paycheck in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kentucky, Montana, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Oregon.

*Note: Given the relatively small sample sizes of many AAPI groups of veterans in the 2015 American Community Survey’s one-year data set, the authors analyzed detailed AAPI veteran economic insecurity using an expanded data set—the 2015 American Community Survey’s five-year data set. According to these data, on average, 22 percent of all veterans and 19 percent of AAPI veterans lived paycheck to paycheck from 2011 through 2015. By comparison, 28 percent of Vietnamese American veterans, 36 percent of Cambodian American veterans, 46 percent of Hmong American veterans, and 36 percent of Laotian American veterans lived paycheck to paycheck. Data used are the latest available from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series USA interactive data tool.

Katherine Gallagher Robbins is the director of family policy for the the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Anusha Ravi is a special assistant for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.