Families and single-parent households living near military bases
Found on and around military bases across the country, Family Troopers are young families and single-parent households with many adults currently serving in the Armed Forces. Ethnically- diverse and boasting the highest concentration of Generation Yers in the nation, this segment reflects an unusual portrait of America, with some of the nation’s highest mobility rates and a mix of household types, including 55 percent single-parent households - also one of the highest rates in the nation.
Family Troopers are a lot like that of other young and downscale segments. Educational achievement is below-average and incomes from Uncle Sam and the service industries around the bases are low. Few of these households can scrape together a down payment to buy one of the local homes, even though they typically cost less than $146,000. However, with their routine deployments to other bases and war zones, they’re generally not interested in putting down roots when they’ll be gone within a year or two anyway. For many Family Troopers, their most important business relationship is with the manager of the closest self-storage facility.
A soldier’s paycheck doesn’t allow for a cushy lifestyle. In Family Troopers, it doesn’t permit much nightlife, dining out or traveling on exotic vacations. With 90 percent of households containing children, many devote their free time to entertaining their youngsters, taking them to zoos and theme parks, and buying them the latest toys and games. These households enjoy a lot of team sports like baseball and basketball. If they can line up a babysitter, the parents may go to a bar or movie, but white-tablecloth dining or an evening at the theater is generally out of the question. In these households, one weekend night is usually reserved for playing games or cards or watching a video at home.
With many young and unattached, Family Troopers like to look sharp, and shop for the latest clothing styles whenever they can. However, their thin wallets usually send them to discount department stores like Family Dollar and Payless Shoe Source. They’re more likely to buy toys for their kids than for themselves - they don’t often purchase consumer gadgets or cool options for their cars. In fact, they buy no new car makes at high rates, though they will buy a used domestic car as long as it looks hot. They do appreciate mobile technology and own cell phones and MP3 players more than the average, which makes sense for a segment that could be shipped out at a moment’s notice. For many, their cell phones are like an appendage, helping them stay connected with friends and family.
Family Troopers like new media. Forget about newspapers in this segment - they have only modest interest in magazines, preferring titles that deal with parenting, entertainment or fashion. They’re big fans of TV, especially the cartoons, music videos and fare on Disney and Nickelodeon that they can watch as a family. They also like radio for the variety of music it offers; salsa, alternative rock and rhythm and blues are favorites. However, their main form of entertainment is the Internet. They go online for music, games, blogs and viewing social media profiles.
The values of Family Troopers are still being formed. They’re mostly apolitical and prefer to be called Independent rather than Democrat or Republican. They’re into the here-and-now, with little concern about saving for the future, though they’re not happy with their standard of living. With their nomadic, high-stress jobs, many simply yearn for a more comfortable lifestyle.
As the name implies, Family Troopers are Americans who live on or around military bases. Nearly two-thirds are younger than 30 years old; some 90 percent are under 35. They have mixed household types: about half are single, 40 percent are married and a striking 55 percent contain single parents - more than five times the national average. All told, more than 90 percent of households have at least one child at home. Ethnically-mixed, the segment features a high concentration of Hispanics, at 20 percent, and a disproportionate number of Native Americans - small in number but still twice the national average. The members of this segment have below- average educations, with only about half having gone beyond high school.
Family Troopers are found in the small towns and cities that surround the nation’s military bases - Colorado Springs, Colo., Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Riley, Kan., and Fort Meade, Md., for example. These soldiers and their families tend to live in barracks housing (if single) or in older duplexes, ranch houses and low-rise apartment buildings near a base. More than 90 percent of households rent their units, though house values are relatively affordable, at under $146,000. Given the routine deployments and reassignments, renting makes sense financially and logistically. One of the most transient populations in the nation, nearly half of Family Troopers have lived at the same address for less than a year, nearly three-quarters for fewer than three years.
Family Troopers lead frugal lifestyles. The adults go out rarely, except to a bar, bowling alley, cinema or bingo parlor. Those with children are willing to splurge on their kids, taking them to an aquarium, zoo or theme park, and they buy them virtually every game and toy at rates more than twice the national average. Most of these 20-somethings spend their evenings at home, reading books, playing cards or board games or cooking for fun. On weekends, they work out by playing basketball, baseball, football and soccer; this is also a segment full of seriously athletic people who are into boxing and martial arts. For a big date, they’ll get tickets to a rock concert or comedy club.
These young Americans want to look good and like to shop. They tell researchers that they like to experiment with new styles and try to change their wardrobe with every season. Nonetheless, they also realize their budgets will go only so far and they feel that clothes from a discount department store are just as good as any mainstream retailer’s. They practice what they preach, patronizing chains such as Family Dollar, Kmart, Walmart and Payless Shoe Source. They make a strong audience for toy stores and hobby shops, but a weak one for car dealers and electronics stores. This tech-shy segment may buy a new MP3 player, but they’re reluctant to stock up on other consumer gadgets.
Family Troopers are eclectic media consumers. They enjoy a wide variety of TV programming, including cable channels that range from Disney and the Cartoon Network to MTV, FX, Style and Adult Swim. They’re average radio fans, tuning in for Mexican, contemporary hit, salsa, rhythm and blues and alternative rock music. While they don’t often subscribe to newspapers, they do pick up a few magazines, including Baby Talk, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Fitness and Entertainment Weekly. With Hispanics representing 20 percent of the households, they read Spanish-language papers more than the average.
Family Troopers like to enjoy life for the moment without worrying about the future. They like to do unconventional things and pursue novel experiences, but they are fatalistic, claiming there’s little they can do to change their lives. Many of their goals are materialistic - to make money, to drive a car that catches people’s attention - but they always seem to come up short when reaching for them. Because they believe money is the best measure of success, their lack of it can result in frustration for some.
With a strong streak of apathy, Family Troopers are a weak electorate. They have a below- average tendency to register to vote and offer relatively low support for the mainstream parties. Their identification with Independents is nearly 50 percent higher than average. They follow the general population in their political outlook, and they’re more than twice as likely to describe themselves as conservative, yet they tend to be more centrist than right-wing.
Many of these households with children are strong on the primacy of the family. They like to spend time at home and think their children should be heard and indulged with extras. Athough they think it’s important to sit down to dinner together as a family, they lament that it rarely happens.
With pay typically 40 percent below average and not much of a financial background, Family Troopers are risk-averse and price-sensitive. Their pay may be supplemented with housing assistance and commissary privileges, but there’s not much left over for savings. They own very few income-producing assets and rarely own any stocks, bonds, mutual funds or CDs. They say they distrust banks and prefer to use cash or money orders to pay their bills. Only half as likely to carry credit cards as average Americans, they rely on debit cards and ATM machines for walking-around money. Some are still paying off college and car loans, but these young households are otherwise a weak financial market. Despite their often dangerous jobs, they own little insurance - not for life, health or even disability coverage.
For Family Troopers, their online behavior is focused more on content than transactions. They go online to blog, visit sports sites, download music, play games and look for jobs. They rarely use the Internet for banking, making travel plans or shopping for items other than music and intimate apparel. Social networking and dating sites are also popular among these young households, and they go to facebook.com, singlesnet.com and blackplanet.com. Given the on- the-move nature of their lifestyle, it’s not surprising that they’re twice as likely as average Americans to access the Internet using cell phones. They also are open to online advertising and frequently click on email ads, sponsored Websites and links; many appreciate the attention they get with tailored marketing messages.