The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

AFSA NEWS 64 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA Releases Cost of Living Survey Results The 2024 AFSA Cost of Living Survey generated a higher response than any previous survey, with 2,868 responses out of approximately 13,000 active-duty members—a 22 percent response rate. Respondents were from diverse demographics, many cones and specialties, and multiple AFSA constituent agencies. As with our other surveys, most respondents came from the mid-ranks. Survey respondents overwhelmingly told us that the cost of living in the Washington, D.C., region and in other expensive U.S. cities has had a marked, negative effect on members’ willingness to bid on domestic positions. When asked if the cost of living affects their willingness to bid on Washington jobs, fully 79.9 percent of respondents said it had a “substantial effect” and 16.9 percent said it had a “moderate effect.” This poses challenges for individual career growth and for the health of the Foreign Service as a whole: For some, missing out on the knowledge and understanding of the policymaking process could reduce their effectiveness in later positions, especially at senior levels. In addition, having an unbalanced skills and experience base could undermine the long-term institutional influence of the Foreign Service. AFSA has shared the survey results with senior agency officials and is in active discussion with them on possible incentives to serve in Washington, D.C. Among our principal requests are an increase in the Home Service Transfer Allowance (HSTA), a separate and improved electronics replacement allowance, boosted childcare and transportation/parking subsidies, more services to enable faster and easier spouse employment, and expanded access to the student loan repayment program. Washington Housing Costs Beyond Reach. More than 80 percent of respondents identified housing as the major factor in the high cost of living in Washington, D.C., (and some other expensive domestic assignments like New York) and the driving force in decisions not to pursue Washington positions. Those in domestic assignments now or in the recent past noted that they are living farther and farther from work to be able to afford their housing. Seventy-nine percent of respondents told us they would live closer to work if expense were not a factor. For the largest number of respondents, food and groceries as a category was the second-highest expense, followed by transportation. For parents/caregivers, dependent care costs were slightly higher than transportation. Other significant expenses mentioned by members were health care costs and student loan repayments. Commuting Longer, Paying More. More than half of our respondents travel or traveled between 30 and 60 minutes to work, and 15 percent travel more than an hour. The majority use public transit; most of the rest drive, bike, or van pool. Commuting costs decreased markedly during the pandemic, when working from home was mandatory, but times have changed. Eighty-five percent of respondents told us that if telework policies were further tightened, it would increase their overall commuting expenses by between 20 and 40 percent. Lack of Consistent Second Income. Survey respondents pinpointed the lack of a consistent second income in households with at least one dependent as the factor having the most harmful impact on finances. 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% 0-20% 20-40% 40-60% 60-80% More than 80% N/A If you are married or in a committed relationship, for what percentage of your career has the family had only one income? Respondents were from diverse demographics, many cones and specialties, and multiple AFSA constituent agencies.