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23 July 2020

Conquering the Challenges of Finding and Maintaining Employment as a Military Spouse

Though unemployment (i.e., having no job) and underemployment (i.e., not working as much as desired or being over-qualified for a job) are challenges faced by many civilians, the issue is far more prevalent among military spouses. I witnessed this struggle firsthand growing up in a military family. My mother had a college degree in marketing, but none of the jobs she took (e.g., special needs preschool teaching assistant, bank teller, university administrative assistant) were directly related to her initial career field. My mother was lucky, because she succeeded in finding employment with every PCS, even if it wasn’t in her career field of choice. Fast forward a few years and my brother is now a Marine and his partner is in the same boat as my mom, struggling to find employment related to her profession in hospitality management. Because this is such a common occurrence in the military community, it’s important to identify why employment is valuable for spouses, what barriers hold spouses back from pursuing their careers, and what tips and tools are available to help break down those barriers.

Why employment matters

Research has shown that in addition to the obvious financial benefits to both partners in a relationship being employed, work is a valuable means of self-esteem for military spouses. This sense of personal fulfilment and contribution to the family promotes a strong sense of self and may even reduce relationship conflict. Spouses who are not employed or are underemployed (i.e., not working as much as they want), however, are at a greater risk for depression. Thus, it is imperative that efforts are made to help military spouses gain employment to support individual and family well-being.

Barriers to employment

Military spouses and Service members have reported several challenges that prevent spouses from finding and maintaining gainful employment, shown in the table below.

Barriers to Employment for Military Spouses
“Military-first” expectation Military service is prioritized over other aspects of life, including spousal employment. Families are told when and where they will be living and working by the military, which may limit employment opportunities.
No opportunities on/around military installations Even in metropolitan areas, many spouses struggle to find employment opportunities in a particular location, especially those in specialized fields. Although some military spouses may find work, it may require long commutes to different cities, or may pay far below what a spouse’s qualifications would normally justify.
International work restrictions In some countries, American military spouses stationed on U.S. military installations are not permitted to work off of the installation. This severely restricts what type of employment spouses can attain, as few specialized jobs exist on these installations that may be found otherwise in the host country.
Frequent and unpredictable relocations Many employers are wary to hire military spouses because they are aware that military families relocate frequently and they may need to hire a replacement with a quick turnaround.
Limitations of licensing Spouses who are employed in particular fields, such as nursing or education, must acquire a license to perform their job. Licensing is typically completed through the state, which poses issues for families who PCS to another state and thus require a new license.
Overcoming barriers and achieving employment

With all of these barriers in mind, it can be overwhelming to try and decide how to pursue a career as a military spouse. Here are a few tips and tools to help you along the way.

Tips for Overcoming Employment Barriers
Flexibility One helpful way to be appealing to employers is being flexible, especially with your work schedule. If the demands are reasonable for yourself and your family, consider being flexible with work schedules and in the tasks you complete.
Transferable skills The choice of career field is critical in maintaining a career as a military spouse. Some jobs have transferable skills that can be adapted to a variety of environments (e.g., nursing, education). Look for career fields that will be relevant in many different locations.
High demand jobs As one would imagine, it is generally easier to find jobs when there are many employers looking to hire. The best way to identify high demand jobs is to look at employment conditions (e.g., growing industries, top local employers) in the location where you are stationed.
Savings If available with your budget, put money aside in savings in preparation for the next PCS. Employment may be hard to find in your new area, so having money aside can keep your family afloat as you continue your job search.
Employment resources Spouses who are employed in particular fields, such as nursing or education, must acquire a license to perform their job. Licensing is typically completed through the state, which poses issues for families who PCS to another state and thus require a new license.

Spousal employment has been a problem for many years, and a variety of resources have been created since then to help you along the way. MySECO and MSEP are just two government-sponsored military resources that are available for military spouses of all branches. Check out this article from Military.com for more information on additional spousal employment resources.

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