Unemployment and underemployment of military spouses remains a challenge faced by the military community which directly impacts readiness and lifestyle satisfaction.
Key members of the Trump administration attended a military spouse symposium at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina this week. Scheduled attendees included Ivanka Trump, advisor to the President, and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President. Jennifer Korn, Deputy Director for the Office of Public Liaison and military spouse, was also scheduled to attend and deliver a keynote address.
The event was sponsored by the Military Officer Association of America and Hiring our Heroes, an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation focused on helping “veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.”
Attendees engaged in panel discussions, question and answer sessions, and skill-building sessions. The free event was open to military spouses, active duty servicemembers, reservists, retirees, veterans, and National Guardsmen and women.
Military spouses are made up of both men and women, with some being active duty military members themselves. It is worth noting that 92% of military spouses are female and 87% are civilians. While spouses fitting all demographics face challenges associated with military life, much of the policy changes and issues discussed focused on these majority groups.
Unemployment and underemployment of military spouses remains a challenge faced by the military community which directly impacts readiness and lifestyle satisfaction. What is a major factor is a military member’s decision to continue on active duty or separating from military service. Not only do many families need two incomes to maintain their desired lifestyle, military spouses also desire to have fulfilling work which allows them to use their hard-earned skills.
Hiring our Heroes conducted a survey of military spouses in June specifically looking at employment. The survey found that 16% of military spouses are unemployed. This is four times the 4.4% unemployment rate, as reported in Aug 2017 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Underemployment is just as significant a problem. The survey reported that 50% of those spouses in part-time work would prefer a full-time position. 82% of those in seasonal or temporary positions would prefer a permanent one. Around 70% of those working do not feel that their education and skills are being “fully utilized in their current job.”
One of the most staggering statistics is that 63% of working spouses report having held previous jobs with greater responsibility or needing greater skill to complete. 69% report having more work experience than their job requires and 71% report having more education credentials than their job requires.
The American public recognizes the sacrifices that military families make, including time away from their loved ones, long deployments, and frequent relocations. But with those challenges come professional ones that are not talked about as often.
These numbers are significant because they point to a challenge that military spouses face that often goes unnoticed or overlooked. The American public recognizes the sacrifices that military families make, including time away from their loved ones, long deployments, and frequent relocations. But with those challenges come professional ones that are not talked about as often.
Events such as the Symposium at Camp Lejeune offer tangible tools and networking for military spouses to help them pursue meaningful employment.
Some challenges are larger than can be addressed by updating a LinkedIn profile or perfecting interview techniques. Frequent moves make it difficult for spouses in certain occupations to continue employment. Licensure requirements often vary from state to state and may even require fees and continuing education to obtain updated licenses.
Some solutions being explored include increasing state-to-state reciprocity or a streamlined licensing option for those who hold a current license in another state. This would help military spouses continue in fields that not only provide meaningful employment but are in need of qualified career-minded individuals. It would also help those spouses work towards retirement benefits, rather than requiring them to start from scratch every two years.
Starbucks committed to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025 and Amazon’s initiatives include work-from-home, portable positions and support while adjusting to a position at the company.
Frequent moves and breaks in employment also impact the professional opportunities open to military spouses. In the June 2017 survey, 67% of spouses who have experienced a relocation reported having to quit a job at least one time as a result. After moving to a new city, the job search process is rarely quick or easy. 65% needed four months or longer to find new employment, with some taking as long as six months or a year.
When interviewing for a new position, it can be difficult for military spouses to confidently discuss their status as a military spouse. It shows that they are flexible, adaptable, and explains frequent job changes listed on their resume. Spouses also worry that it may concern potential employers, knowing that their new employee will most likely move again in just a few years.
However, many companies are recognizing the value of military spouses and specifically recruiting military spouses. Starbucks committed to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025. Amazon’s initiatives include work-from-home, portable positions and support while adjusting to a position at the company.
The Trump administration has acknowledged the gap in military spouse unemployment and the national average in previous statements and attendance at events. In August, Ivanka Trump met with military spouses at the White House to discuss the challenges that they faced. “We are committed to supporting you and ensuring that you have every opportunity to find success in our economy,” she told the group.
The focus that the Trump administration has brought to this issue by attendance at these key events is an important step. Ivanka Trump’s role in President Trump’s administration has been to largely bring awareness to issues of importance on her own agenda, such as equal pay, skyrocketing childcare costs, and female business leadership. A business leader herself, it makes sense that she would focus on issues of employment and how it impacts women.