For decades, unemployment and underemployment has been a problem for many military spouses. When you move every few years to a new duty station, there can be many obstacles to finding a job — much less finding a job that meets your career goals and financial needs. And a worldwide pandemic sharply exacerbates the issue.
It’s a problem that varies from one spouse to the next, and from one location to the next. Military spouses, like their counterparts in the civilian community, are working in a wide variety of career fields, such as teaching, hairdressing, nursing, accounting, retail, engineering, law, and many more. Many spouses have to deal with professional licensure requirements that vary from state to state. Some who work in specialized career fields face moving to a location where there just aren’t jobs available in that field.
Over the years, defense officials, the military services, and different nonprofit organizations have worked to dig into the problem and provide opportunities for spouse education and employment. Defense officials have recognized this is a readiness issue that affects military families’ financial well-being, and often affects the service member’s decision about whether to stay in the military.
Different organizations have reported different numbers over the years for spouse unemployment using different methodologies. These numbers represent spouses unemployed but actively seeking work.
DoD’s scientific survey, with random sampling, put active duty spouse unemployment at 26 percent in 2010, 23 percent in 2015, and 24 percent in 2017. A smaller survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes in 2017 put the number at 16 percent; the online Blue Star Families’ 2019 lifestyle survey indicated 24 percent.
Here are some resources for spouses, for starters:
*Through the Defense Department’s Military OneSource Spouse Education & Career Opportunities program, career coaches provide individual guidance to spouses on education and careers, at no charge. Call 800-342-9647 to speak with a career coach between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern, Monday through Friday, or from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The SECO program has many other resources, including a resume builder toolkit, help finding scholarships, and more.
*For specific job openings, look to the Military Spouse Employment Partnership program, a partnership between the Defense Department and corporate and non-profit organizations that specifically want to hire military spouses. Currently there are 440 organizations participating that have hired more than 143,000 military spouses since MSEP’s inception nine years ago. The companies are vetted by DoD and offer portable jobss.
*Military installations’ employment assistance programs are a local resource to help with job searches. Contact the office to find out what assistance is available; operations may vary because of restrictions during the pandemic.
*For those who must pay for professional licensing and certification following a permanent change of station move, the law allows each service branch to reimburse spouses up to $1,000 for relicensure and certification costs resulting from relocations or PCS moves that cross U.S. state lines - to include OCONUS to stateside moves. Find your service’s procedures and requirements here.
*Employment in the federal sector is one option for active duty military spouses. A federal hiring authority gives agencies the ability to appoint military spouses to jobs without using the traditional competitive examining procedures. The hiring authority is used at the discretion of the federal agency, and doesn’t entitle a spouse to a job over any other applicant. You still must apply and meet qualification standards and additional requirements, such as a background investigation.
At www.usajobs.gov, you can apply online after creating a USAJOBS profile. In the job announcement, look for the “This job is open to” section. When the position is open to military spouses, you’ll see a round green icon with white interlocked circles. You can also select the “military spouses” filter in the search.
*The My Career Advancement Account Scholarship, or MyCAA, is a DoD program open to spouses of service members on active duty in pay grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2 and O-1 to O-2 who have successfully completed high school. MyCAA is a workforce development program that provides up to $4,000 of tuition assistance for pursuing licenses, certifications or associate degrees necessary to gain employment in an occupation or career field. Spouses may use their MyCAA scholarship funds at any academic institution approved for participation in the scholarship.
*The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program hosts a variety of programs for military spouses, including a fellowship program. They conduct hiring and networking events across the country for military spouses, held in partnership with the installation’s family employment readiness office and DoD’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership. During the pandemic, they’re offering a variety of virtual events.
*Blue Star Families’ Career Center offers resources such as their Spouseforce, which helps connect military spouses, training partners and employers. They also provide a variety of networking opportunities, career coaching and some connections to specific training. For example, they offer connections to free training in a variety of in-demand technology career fields. As their website states, “If you can send an email and work your banking app you can be trained in a new career that offers portability both up that corporate ladder and during PCS season.”
*Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University offers programs in career, vocations, and entrepreneurship education and training to post 9/11 veterans and active-duty military spouses.
*Among the opportunities for education and training is the FINRA Investor Education Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship, funding the education and training for spouses seeking to earn their Accredited Financial Counselor designation. With this year’s 50 recipients, it brings the total to 1,638 fellowships awarded to military spouses over the last 15 years. The application process generally starts in the Spring.
*The National Military Spouse Network offers networking, mentoring and professional development geared to the education, empowerment and advancement of military spouses. The organization is a community of military spouse professionals, businesses, academics and media sharing expertise and finding innovative ways to balance a viable career with the military lifestyle while laying the foundation for a successful career after military life. A number of spouse entrepreneurs are involved in the NMSN.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.