The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the societal landscape of how we socialize, shop, learn and work; it isn’t always easy to see a semblance of a silver lining during a global pandemic—but there’s one staring military spouses directly in the face.
One of the most challenging aspects in creating a better quality of life as a military spouse, is the high rate of unemployment and underemployment. Years of effort in lobbying for federal legislation to end job discrimination against military spouses, and providing them with a boost in obtaining federal employment, in addition to the tireless efforts of non-profits in building networks with companies to bridge the unemployment/underemployment gaps for military spouses, hasn’t been able to accomplish the potential COVID-19 has for the future of military spouse employment.
The solution in alleviating several hurdles military life presents on spouses pursuing careers, is finally emerging from an antiquated cocoon of the traditional workplace. How is the drastic shift in redefining, “office” a potential silver bullet for military spouse employment woes?
Moves, moves and more moves…
The largest impediment to military spouses pursuing careers is frequent moves. Oftentimes, potential employers are reluctant to hire military spouses based on the frequency of PCS’ing. Advocates for military spouses have been building relationships with companies to encourage them to hire military spouses.
Despite the best of intentions on the part of those companies, often the jobs marketed to spouses are on either end of the pendulum. On one end, there are highly skilled and technical positions, often requiring specific licenses or certificates. On the other end, the bulk of opportunities consists of low skill, hourly-wage jobs, i.e., retail. Spouses seeking full-time, meaningful professional employment fall between the massive gap. The military spouse community is comprised of diverse individuals, who are educated and have a wide range of interests and career aspirations. Military spouses aren’t one-size-fits-all, but often expected to fit for one-size-fits-all-type of jobs. Not every spouse is interested, or cutout for jobs in the healthcare industry. They shouldn’t be pressured to settle for low-skill, hourly-wage work that aren’t resume builders.
Finding well-paid, professional positions fitting spouses’ interests, education and experience while offering remote work opportunities has been like finding a diamond in the rough—until now.
Limited job markets…
Not all regions surrounding bases have bustling, diverse job markets. Some bases are very remote. Some may be surrounded by an economically depressed area. Some will be heavily centered around specific industries. Finding work while stationed overseas can be extremely difficult, between the host country’s laws and restrictions, and the limited on-base civilian job market. Geography doesn’t always have to dictate military spouse’s career paths.
Finding mobile careers seems like a dream to many, but those dreams could become reality.
Working to pay childcare costs…
Working can be counterproductive, if the pay isn’t great and requires the need for childcare. The average full-time child-care program in the U.S. is $16,000. The annual earnings for full-time federal minimum-wage workers is $15,080—and that isn’t the take-home amount.
As mentioned, most jobs advertised to military spouses are geared towards low skill, hourly-waged jobs—equaling low pay. Hourly-wage jobs, especially the in the retail and food service industries pose problems for military families working inconsistent hours. Most military families don’t have the luxury of being stationed minutes from family, who can often step in to assist. Some struggling military families are forced to forego spousal employment after weighing income vs. childcare costs.
The stress and expense of childcare costs may not have to be a major hindrance to finding a job for much longer.
The COVID employment effect…
The pandemic is transforming the traditional eight-to-five office job. The stationary office space is transforming to a modern mobile office. The sharp increase of virtual offices is demonstrating the unnecessary constraints of work needing to be performed in an office space.
A snapshot of teleworking by numbers:
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only seven percent of workers in the U.S had the benefit of telework prior to the Covid crisis. Since Covid-19, the number skyrocketed to 64%. Many companies have announced extending telework into 2021.
- According to Eagle Hill Consulting, 70% of federal employees who telework say they are more productive and motivated.
- According to Global Workplace Analytics, typical employers can save about $11,000 a year for every employee who works remotely at least part-time. Employees can save between $2,500 and $4,000 a year working remotely.
Seize the opportunity…
From a pragmatic standpoint, COVID-19 is creating great potential for military spouses, and their advocates to encourage employers to institute permanent virtual office positions.
The telecommuting trend has the potential to turn the tides on the high unemployment and underemployment rates of military spouses. Shifting away from fixed offices helps eliminate the negative stigma attached to military spouse employment—frequent moves.
Expanding virtual offices for military spouses could ease several stress factors in maintaining or growing meaningful careers. Some of the benefits of expanding remote work opportunities for military spouses are:
- Makes careers portable.
- Eliminates the financial and emotional costs incurred when job hunting post PCS’ing.
- Provides an additional source of financial stability.
- Alleviates strains on families struggling with inconsistent childcare.
- Allows military spouses to build independent financial security, and build retirement funds.
- When military members are deployed, training, in school or on extended travel assignments; it relieves the stresses related to juggling as a single parent. When parents aren’t forced to endure daily commutes, it eases the time crunch shuttling kids to and from school, and to and from activities.
The benefits are boundless. The global pandemic has presented an opportunity for potential employers to become the benefactors by tapping into the vast talent and experience the military spouse community offers.