Editor’s note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.
Military spouses are the unsung heroes of our nation’s defense. Sixteen years into America’s longest-running war and in the face of millions of service member deployments, military spouses have met the challenges that confront them head-on.
“While our military members serve our nation,” Dr. Jill Biden noted at the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Summit in June, “their spouses wait behind serving in their own way, moving from base to base, enduring deployment after deployment, leaving behind family and friends, running households and raising children.”
Yet while being a military spouse can create a host of obligations and commitments to one’s family and community, it is not a paid position, even as 77 percent of employed military spouses say that having two incomes is vitally important to their family. That’s why the issue of military spouse employment is critical to our national security and the continued readiness of our military.
The Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouses in the Workplace Survey, which was released in June, found that deployments, frequent moves and ever-changing family needs make it difficult to maintain or advance a career. With military spouse unemployment ranging from 20 percent to 25 percent, and underemployment at 35 percent to 40 percent over the last decade, military families are more likely to live on a single full income than civilian families.
According to economist Dr. Adam Jones of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, who worked on the survey, the data show that “while the economy is not in recession, military spouses live in recession.”
The more educated a military spouse, the more pessimistic they are about career opportunities, with 57 percent of spouses with college degrees and 63 percent with postgraduate degrees believing that the military lifestyle does not support their efforts to maintain a career. Sixty-seven percent of military spouses reported having to quit or change a job due to a military-related move. Almost half of employed military spouses reported they were now being paid less than they were in another position held within the past five years.
These employment challenges not only affect military spouses’ careers, but the health and stability of military families — and, therefore, the military’s ability to recruit and retain an all-volunteer force.
Eighty-one percent of military spouses have discussed the possibility of leaving military service with their service member, with 43 percent of spouses ranking equal economic opportunity as a key factor in the decision-making process. More than half of all military spouses report that they do not believe a military lifestyle supports professional career opportunities for both spouses.
At last month’s Summit, Kellyanne Conway, speaking on behalf of President Trump, assured military spouses in attendance that those in the White House “know the service and the sacrifice that each of you is putting towards the betterment of your nation. We also know many of our military spouses across the country are in search of employment. This is an issue that is under active examination and search for solutions in this administration.”
The men and women who serve our country should not be worried about making ends meet, nor should the families at home. With 44 percent of military spouses stating that their families are living paycheck to paycheck or struggling financially, that has a direct impact on national security.
This does not need to be the case. It is in the best interest of employers to embrace military spouses to benefit from the skills, experience and resilience that they bring to the workforce. Military spouses are more highly educated than other working Americans and benefit from exposure to diverse environments, people and experiences, which provide them with diverse skill sets that strengthen workplaces.
Employers should make a stronger commitment to empower military spouses by introducing flexible policies — such as supporting remote work locations and office transfers — to sustain those spouses, retain their services and allow them to thrive.
Federal and state governments should streamline legal and regulatory processes that impact military spouse professionals who have trouble maintaining certifications, licenses and other qualifications when they move with their service member to a different area of the country.
Such policies are not just valued by military spouses, but align with evolving employment best practices that appeal to the broader millennial workforce.
By embracing and supporting military spouses in our workplaces, we can transform and advance the career landscape for our nation’s military spouses, reinvigorate our all-volunteer force and strengthen our national security.
Eric Eversole is a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and president of Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.