Home Career and Education The Ugly Truth Behind Military Spouse Unemployment

The Ugly Truth Behind Military Spouse Unemployment


military spouse unemployment data results surveyIt’s not uncommon to hear civilian and military outsiders weighing in on the lifestyles of military families. This really can range from family size, to where we live, or how we spend our time and money; someone always has an opinion. And rarely is it very flattering.

That’s why it’s a shame that the topic of unemployment and underemployment of military spouses is usually spoken in whispers. The employment or rather lack of employment facing our military spouses directly affects the well being of military children as well as the career opportunities facing our men and women upon leaving the service.

For this reason, it’s time to open the floodgates and take a look at this often ignored, but very important issue. First, let’s look at the driving force behind the under/unemployed military spouses.

Length of time at each duty station

Active duty service members typically receive orders for relocation every two to three years. Employers are hesitant to offer positions to military spouses because they are likely to move alongside their servicemember shortly after learning their position and/or receiving the proper training/education necessary to be successful in that job.

Lack of experience

Opportunities for future positions or growth outside of frequent moving, stems primarily from age (the percentage of spouses under the age of 34 is 61.8%) or education (65.7% of military spouses have acknowledged having more than a high school education but not a 4 year degree).

Location, Location, Location

Most military spouses love the idea of traveling from one side of the world to the other, but let’s be honest; cultural norms, language barriers and limited knowledge of the area impacts the types of positions available… especially when the spouse is young with a lack of education and/or job skills. Couple that with license portability issues and this is a huge challenge facing our spouses today.

Supporting the Home Front

Demands may differ between spouses who have children compared to those without, but most share many of the duties necessary to keep the home fires burning in our armed forces. Let’s look at volunteerism within the unit to help organize events: as much as I love my husband and the things he does for me, I promise you, he has never organized a party for me and my coworkers, no matter how awesome we truly are. How about spouses who completely manage the household from errands, household chores, or even banking because the servicemember is off training or deployed and is unable to help.

Military spouses are needed at a moment’s notice and step in to assist to support their partner. I’m just scratching the surface of needs that arise at home, but I’d offer that with all the military spouse obligations, they may very well tell you they “don’t remember promising this in their wedding vows”. While these tasks are often small, the amount of time spent taking care of family and commitments can add up quickly, taking away time where they may be available for work.

What does it all boil down to? In a recent survey done by the Military Officers of America and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, they recently reported the following figures:

  • In 2012, 18-24 year-old Armed Forces female spouses had the highest unemployment rates at 30 percent (which is almost three times higher than their civilian counterparts at 11 percent).
  • 25-44 year-old Armed Forces female spouses had the second highest unemployment rates at 15 percent (almost three times higher than their civilian counterparts at 6 percent).
  • Over 50% of respondents indicated their chosen career field requires licensing or certification and 73% requires renewal/reissuing after a PCS move, costing an average of $223.03
  • Respondents reported being underemployed with respect to education (33%), experience (10%), or both (47%).
  • Income significantly differs based on educational attainment and whether the military spouse is working in their preferred career field.”

The information is out there — we’ve linked to the amazing infographic released by MOAA and IVMF with the data collected below.

Now it’s time to talk. What is your experience with this? What do you suggest for improving the opportunities for future military spouses and their families? I’m excited to hear your input on this!

MOAA Infographic on Military Spouse Employment Syracuse University Results Survey Milspouse

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  1. I do not fall in the high percentage of the spouses in this article. I am a prior (Air Wing) Marine, I have my bachelors degree, and I am working on my Master’s degree. When we PCSed back to Pendleton after being stationed in Germany (and adding another kid) I was able to get a nice job after 3 months. I have worked there a little over 3 years, and now my husband got promoted (Yay!)….. and is going to Bahrain for a year…..Our family can’t follow due to our daughter’s EFMP status (ADHD)… we tried to fight it to keep the family together, but there are other logistics that made us deal with the separation (2 dogs we would need fostering for 2 years, short selling a vehicle, etc…). In our 10 years of marriage, we have only had 1 deployment (don’t ask me how that happened)….. so I am not trained in dealing with his separation. But me aside, the kids are losing their father for a year, yes we can Skype and he is not in a high danger area, but he will be gone. Because of this, we had to decide to move off base (increase BAH but lose it all to the same house?) and they are starting to charge for utilities (why stay on base again?) because we found a home that lets us save $400 in BAH a month. JUST IN CASE I have to quit to take care of the kids (add the cost of care currently ($600), and there is $1000 a month saved not counting fuel and other costs needed to work!)…. well the cost of childcare out in town doubles, and I was going to require part time work, to be there for my kids. So my pay would be cut in half, and child care would double. It all comes down to, yes I would love to keep working,…. but it is about my kids. I am going to have to be Mom and Dad at home, that is 2 jobs in itself. I am lucky that my General Manager has said that he is very happy with my work, and there will always be a spot for me there, and in a year I am welcome back. But I think there is a decided lack of focus on not being employed, to take care of kids, is NOT a bad thing! Keeping the house clean and functioning so the impact of not having their father isn’t felt as hard.

    • So what is your point? You will have a job waiting for you after you are done playing mom & dad for a year. You are lucky and do not even realize it. And only one deployment in 10 years? Wow, most have at least 3. Thanks for bragging and making the rest of us feel bad about being part of the 30% unemployed…

  2. In Tampa Bay Area April 8 2014 join us for a
    Job Fair for Veterans Military Spouses and Family.
    At the Long Center in Clearwater 10-2:00
    Bring resumes and dress for success!!!

  3. Moira…..I am sending you a private message on Facebook. Look in your “other” inbox folder. I don’t know if what I do might help you, but it has been a blessing to many military spouses who want the opportunity to make money with their own business and be able to stay at home with their children. Please take a look, and message me back. I am expanding my business and it might help you as well! Thank you, Eileen Keenan, RN


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