Military Spouse Unemployment: Is It Really A Problem?

“We have a high unemployment rate,” says Robert Gordon, former head of Military Community and Family Policy at the Pentagon. “At the end of the day, it’s a 26 percent unemployment rate; 80 to 85 percent of our spouses want to work. And there are some spouses who are working and want other sorts of jobs.”

Gone are the days of staying home with the kids awaiting the sound of our spouses pulling in the driveway. But how do we bounce back from a 26% unemployment rate among military spouses? Are there even enough jobs out there? Are we sure that 1 in 4 spouses are actually looking for jobs? Now, on top of that, military spouses earn an average of 25% less than equally qualified civilian employees. This certainly seems like an uphill battle so let’s address it one issue at a time.

Why are spouses unemployed?

It is no secret that today’s economy and job market are less than stellar. Highly qualified individuals are going without jobs. Employees with 20 years in a single company are being let go in favor of younger, less experienced employees who cost less. Nothing is as secure as it used to be. Job security is quickly becoming the most important thing when looking for a new job. Military spouses, however, face additional hurdles in their job search.

Probably the biggest hurdle is overcoming the stigmas that come with being a military spouse:

1) We don’t need to work. Some of us do. Some of want to. But more importantly, shouldn’t we be able to make these decisions for our own families?

2) We move all the time. – Yes, this is a problem. The average military spouse will move 8-12 times over the span of a 20 year career. This could easily be seen as a problem when an employer looks at a resume.

3) Military bases are in the middle of nowhere. – Yes, some of them are, which means jobs are scarce or even worse, are really odd. A lot of remote military locations have limited types of jobs, not all of which are suited for military spouses.

4) Being a military spouse can be a full-time job. – Some might argue that being a spouse of any kind is a full-time job. Just like being a parent. We really shouldn’t expect employers to give us a break simply because we married a service member. But the fact remains that sometimes, our family life can take up more of our time, leaving less time for a job. Yes, we have to deal with long separations from our spouse and take on the responsibilities of both parents. Yes, we move a lot. Yes, our spouses have unpredictable work hours. BUT, none of this needs to be “fixed” by anyone hiring us; it is not something we are owed.

Why is this a problem?

Military spouses have been and continue to be the backbone of military families. As over 100,000 service members are transitioning as a result of the drawdown, those military families need new incomes. One of the keys to a successful transition is employed military spouses. In some cases, these families need dual incomes to replace the pay and benefits from the military service, and in others, the service member may not be able to work, due to a disability, addiction or PTSD. Having a spouse working while the service member attends school or searches for a career will eliminate additional financial stress throughout the transition.

What programs are available to help with military spouse unemployment?

1. Unemployment Compensation

In 44 states and the District of Columbia, spouses who are relocating with their service members due to a permanent change of station, qualify for unemployment compensation. However, you must meet the state’s unique qualifications. Remember, unemployment is a state program that varies each place you move. You apply for unemployment from the state in which you worked. For example, you are working while stationed in Texas and then you move to Virginia, where you are looking for a new job. You would need to file your unemployment in Texas, according to Texas rules. If stationed overseas and returning to the US, you can still file for unemployment, with a few differences. At this point, you’d want to check with the state you are moving to.

2. Educate Employers

In a perfect world, employers would welcome military spouses into their businesses, with no questions, for however long we are stationed there. Since we know this is not true, we’re going to have to work hard to get them to see past our “military spouse-ness” and see us for the qualities we have and the skills we bring to their organization. How do we do that? We start with one. Look at employees who are part of the Military Spouse Employment Program. These employers already understand the added benefits that military spouses can bring to the table. Also, target employers who like to hire veterans, for the same exact reasons. Those of you in a hiring position need to make sure when military spouses come across your radar, you give them a fair chance.

3. Network

I know this is said ALL THE TIME, but nothing could be more important. Here are some areas where you can and should network. Blue Star’s oDesk, Hiring Our Heroes job fairs, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites. Use all the resources you can to make sure you are marketable. Several of these organizations also have educational related program to help spouses become career-ready. If you are a spouse who has a set career field, education and a license from a specific state, there are 38 states who are working on ways to improve the portability of jobs that require licenses. Check with those states as you are approaching a move and make sure you have the correct information to transfer your license.

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