Standing Together with Military Spouses and Families
Military families are on the front line of service and each May Military Spouse Appreciation Day recognizes the unique role of our service members’ husbands and wives.
Every day, military spouses demonstrate how to be brave, resilient, and resourcefulness in the face of the uncertainty that comes with moves and deployments. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, their strength has provided civilian families a model for coping with stress and sudden hardship.
It’s all the more reason for the U.S. Department of Labor and the Women’s Bureau to recognize the leadership skills of military spouses and to champion actions that make career opportunities more accessible. We encourage all military spouses to learn of President Trump’s Executive Order to promote federal hiring for military spouses.
The Women’s Bureau recently launched a series of listening sessions around the country regarding the employment-related concerns of military spouses. Occupational licensing reciprocity and high unemployment remain a top concern for the nearly 92% of military spouses that are women.
Regulatory Reform Can Help Military Spouses that are Licensed Professionals
Difficulty in transferring occupational licenses to other states is a nationwide problem that military spouses face at increased rates – given that military spouses typically relocate every 2-3 years. Significant professional barriers exist in many states, delaying or preventing military spouses from returning to the workforce.
The Trump Administration, in concert with many states, has been working to make it easier for relocating military spouses to have their occupational licenses recognized. The Women’s Bureau and the Veterans’ Employment Training Service created the Military Spouse Interstate License Recognition Options interactive map to provide a centralized platform to help military spouses understand the patchwork of interstate recognition options when planning their next careers step.
- About one-third of employed spouses (34%) work in occupations that require licenses.
- About a third (29%) of spouses acquire a new professional license/credential after their last permanent change of station.
- Among military spouses with licenses, 19% work in healthcare and 10% work in education.
Military spouses are highly educated, skilled, and experienced.
The Women’s Bureau has met with military spouses who bring unique and needed skills and experiences to the workforce. Many volunteer for charities, have learned a second language abroad, and engage with unpaid work providing events and services where they live. Moreover, military spouses have high educational attainment levels.
- Eighty-nine percent of active-duty spouses have some college education or higher compared to 61% of the overall civilian population.
- About 14% of military spouses have an advanced degree and 28% have a four-year degree, compared to 13% and 22% of the overall civilian population, respectively.
Military spouses are more likely to be unemployed compared to civilian counterparts.
In 2019 and early 2020, the United States experienced generational lows in unemployment and the majority of new payroll jobs went to women. However, military spouses have unique challenges due to frequent relocations.
- In 2017, 24% of military spouses were unemployed—more than five times the rate of women that year.
- After relocation, 40% of military spouses took seven months or more to find employment.
- Minority spouses (31%) and younger spouses married to E1-E4 active-duty service members (29%) had higher rates of unemployment.
Military spouses currently looking for employment, or who want to understand what benefits are available for education or training, can connect with a local Veteran Employment Representative by finding an American Job Center near them. While many locations are currently closed to walk-in visitors, they are still available by phone and email to help military spouses explore options and create a plan.
There is a business case for hiring military spouses.
Military Spouse Employment Partnership, part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s broader Spouse Education and Career Opportunities, seeks to strengthen the education and career opportunities of military spouses. This program offers comprehensive information and resources to support military spouse career exploration, education, training and licensing, employment readiness, and career connections.
- More than 390 companies have hired more than 134,000 military spouses.
- Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones exist nationwide to foster businesses’ ability to higher highly trained and competent military spouses.
The U.S. Department of Labor offers employment resources for military spouses and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors recently published an outstanding analysis of military spouses in the labor market.
Laurie Todd-Smith, Ph.D., is the Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women's Bureau.