Sky-high inflation raging across the country is driving a serious cost-of-living crisis for middle class American families. The military is not immune.
Recently, a number of officers stationed at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California—about 80 miles south of Silicon Valley—reached out to me anonymously with data and stories of the immense challenges they face just trying to stay afloat financially. Not only that, but the hyper-liberal environment of coastal California is deeply alienating to many military officers just trying to go about ordinary life.
The officers who reached out to me weren’t junior, either. All were Marine Corps majors who had served at least 10 years before being stationed in California to complete mandatory education as part of their career progression. By and large, they had little say about where they would be stationed, which is one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States.
One officer complained of food prices at the on-base grocery store.
“The commissary is missing food,” he said. “You can’t access some food because of the shortages. You have to go out in town and pay outrageous prices anyways.” Regulations stipulate the commissary food must be within a 10 percent margin of the local market.
“That’s why items around here are so much more expensive than other commissaries,” he told me. “We are paying 200 to 300 percent more money just on groceries than we were last year alone. Nine percent inflation is bullshit.”
Another major pointed out that his basic allowance for housing (BAH)—supplementary pay intended to help with housing costs for servicemembers—wasn’t nearly enough to cover the cost of rent out in town. It fell nearly $1,000 short of what he needed for his family of four.
The average gas price in Monterey is nearly $7 a gallon, as well. The cost of driving to and from work for a family with two cars can cost hundreds of dollars a month. One officer who lives a mile from work but whose wife drives across town for employment, pays well over $300 a month just to drive.
Skyrocketing utility bills, including water, are another huge problem. One major described not being able to bathe his children on a daily basis because the cost of water was so high in the parched central California region.
“If you live on post your water is supposedly free, but if you’re off-base the BAH doesn’t offset the water and electric bills that we have here,” he told me. “We only heat our house at night and only to 68 degrees and our electric bill is still over $150 a month. Water is about $150 a month for us and we don’t bathe the kids every day.”
In order to try and save money and water, the officer and his wife collect “our water when we run the shower as well as when it is warming up, we take a pitcher while it’s running until it gets warm and then put that lukewarm water into a Brita container for our drinking water. It saves us about 15 bucks a month and while it’s probably a good idea to conserve water anyways, it’s outrageous that I need to do this.”
The major added: “We are spending about $400 to $500 on utilities per month. That’s conservative. Our neighbors can’t even have plants or grass anymore. They were spending $500 a month just on water. All the plants around us are dead now.”
Back of the envelope math identifies the problem. The average Marine Corps major with 10 years experience can expect to make $7,891 a month. After taxes he can expect to take home about $5,400 a month. Take $1,000 off the top for housing costs above and beyond his allowance, and he now has $4,400 left. Take out the cost of utilities, $500 a month (conservatively), and another $1,000—the average cost for two car payments for used vehicles in 2022—and another $1,300 for food (based on the average cost per month for a family of four in California) and this major is left with just $1,600 a month to cover car insurance, house and vehicle repairs, clothing, cell phone and internet bills, debt payments, and school supplies, to name just a few.
Even military families with dual incomes are struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck. Rising childcare costs can easily eat through that “extra” income. Put simply, these Marine Corps officers stationed in California are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have no power to move out of the area, quit the military, or get pay raises.
And it gets worse.
Families that don’t want to give the COVID vaccine to their children face serious social ostracization in school. From one Marine Corps father reporting on the treatment of his kids:
I came here to Central California during the pandemic because of Permanent Change of Station orders. There are major issues here for military families with children. From the healthcare aspect enrolling them in school is a huge problem. According to the state of California you are required to have children vaxxed at certain ages. If you don’t get them inoculated against COVID then you have to forcibly mask your child. They are ostracized at school and there’s nothing we can do about it. Some officers can afford private schools for their kids but most cannot. We didn’t choose to be here—we are forced to be here. Meanwhile, our children are being forced to be social outcasts.
While senior Marine Corps officers in California are struggling to make ends meet, the Department of Defense is giving pregnant servicewomen special leave and travel reimbursements to get abortions in states where the procedure is legal. Priorities.
This state of affairs is unacceptable. Members of Congress, including the ranking Republican members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), should demand answers. They could start by ordering Captain Paul M. Dale, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Monterey, to testify before Congress on the status of the financial situation of the Marines and sailors under his command.
Congress should pressure Marine and Navy generals and admirals higher-up the chain as well. America’s servicemembers deserve better than this cost of living crisis. Instead of funding abortions, the Defense Department should relieve skyrocketing living costs for troops stationed in liberal, high cost-of-living states like California.