Hey, I was talking with Blue Star Families (BSF) last month, and one of our big topics of conversation was the crises of military spouse unemployment. This is a really big deal, and something that Blue Star Families' identified through their annual survey.
Like lots of American families, lots of military families need two earners for financial stability and to achieve their families goals. The crises of spouse unemployment really undermines our population, especially when they're most vulnerable – during transition, if a service member wants to go back to school, in case of injury or PTSD, etc. BSF really has their feet on the ground working hard to craft solutions, and they've outlined some of the main concerns below.
Unemployment rate for military spouses is many times higher than US average.
- Our country should be proud of the robust programs and public-private partnerships that have successfully lowered the veteran unemployment rate in recent years; however, joblessness among the spouses of active duty service members has remained alarmingly high and largely unnoticed: 3-4 times the rate of most vets and of the general public.
- Through over a decade of war military spouses have sacrificed and supported the service member and our country, now it’s time to help them find jobs.
The Blue Star Families 2013 survey showed that more than half of the spouses who are not working want to be working now.
Military spouses want and need unemployment but can’t find it.
- Addressing the military spouse unemployment problem isn’t just the right thing to do for military spouses who have also sacrificed during 12 years of war—it’s also the smart thing to do. RAND research has found military spouse employment to be an essential source of income for most military families.
- 91,000 or 1 in 4 military spouses who are actively looking for work are unable to find it—that translates into a 26% unemployment rate among military spouses.
Military spouses experience the same career challenges as their civilian counterparts; however, they also face additional obstacles to pursuing employment that are specific to the military lifestyle.
- Military families move every 2-4 years and will reside in 8-12 different locations during a typical 20 year career.
- Many military bases are located in remote locations, removed from many opportunities for traditional career employment.
When military spouses are able to find a job, they work fewer hours and for less pay than individuals with similar educations, experience, and marital status.
- Military spouses earn 25% less than comparable individuals not married to service members.
- Implications Include National Security and Stalled Demobilization/Reintegration Efforts.
Military spouse unemployment threatens the financial well-being and quality of life of military families, thus impacting national military retention and readiness.
- Spouse employment is correlated with satisfaction with a military lifestyle and research suggests that spousal satisfaction is the most significant determinant in whether a service member will continue a military career.
- The current US draw-down means over 100,000 military members will have made a transition out of the military within a few years. Employed spouses facilitate the successful transition of service members to civilian life by providing a steady source of income while veteran is searching for a civilian job.
As in the civilian world, one (military or otherwise) salary alone does not usually sustain families and most military families want to be dual income families.
- Causes are varied, but predominantly relate to job market alignment and poor employer understanding of the military family lifestyle.
A military family lifestyle means military spouses face additional challenges to employment.
- Job market alignment challenges arising from frequent geographic re-locations, prolonged family separations and unpredictable work hours represent significant challenges to consistent employment and career growth for military spouses.
Many employers harbor erroneous conceptions or poor understanding of military spouses.
- Military spouse resumes may have employment gaps or short periods of employment that suggest instability on unreliability; rather, it reflects military spouses’ resiliency, resourcefulness and commitment to supporting their active duty spouse and the needs of our country.
- Solutions require broadly increasing awareness of the problem and connecting employers and military spouses to existing nonprofit and government initiatives.
Broader societal and employer awareness.
- The Hiring our Heroes (HOH) program (sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce) holds military spouse hiring fairs at major US bases throughout the country, bringing corporate employers to military spouse communities. Blue Star Families is honored to partner with Hiring our Heroes to make spouse hiring fairs a success. HOH features the spouse’s guide to employment, the Blue Star Spouse Employment Toolkit, which BSF developed to help spouses translate significant volunteer experience into resume-ready information.
Developing quality portable and work-from-home positions for military spouses that enable employment continuity and career advancement.
- Blue Star Jobs is Blue Star Families solution to remote locations, frequent moves, and heightened care-giving responsibilities. It offers employers the opportunity to search and hire military spouses for work-at-home positions through a joint initiative with an on-line contract-job platform, oDesk.com. Through Blue Star Jobs, military spouses can find career-quality contractor work they can do at home, in the hours they want to work, and have their jobs move with them when it is time to change duty stations.
Employment solutions must meet spouses where they are and be built into existing military family life structures rather than asking spouses to fit into or follow conventional/civilian employment advice.
Blue Star Networks enable spouses to establish professional networks in the most common military spouse professions, to find local information about the job market in an upcoming duty station, and obtain advice and tips about complying with new state licensing requirements. Blue Star Networks are run via Facebook in order to provide the dynamic and easily accessible delivery platform that makes it easy for military spouses to stay current on changing employment information and professional resources.
In addition, Blue Star Families has a number of education related programs to help get military spouses career-ready.