Handling chaotic military life requires true grit which is a valuable asset in the workforce. -Jamie Chapman
Imagine that you’re the leader of a country. Your country is in a state of crisis. Twenty-five percent of people are unemployed and over 50 percent are underemployed. Your country has among the world’s highest unemployment rates, on par with war-ridden countries. It’s doomed to a cycle of economic failure.
These are the real-life numbers affecting U.S. service member spouses today. The White House recently published a stark Military Spouse Demographics and Employment study that illuminated a 24 percent unemployment rate for service member spouses. This rate is over four times higher than the U.S. average and it’s as high as the worst unemployment rates in the world.
Service member spouses make less money.
According to the study, “89% of Active Duty spouses have some college education or higher (with 28% having attained a 4-year degree, 14% having an advanced degree)” and “female military spouses earn, on average, 25% less than their civilian counterparts.”
Despite comparable levels of education and skill, the White House estimates that “military spouses earn more than $12,000 per year less than other workers, resulting in losses of nearly $190,000 over a 20-year military career.” Generally, average salaries rise with an increase in education. In the case of service member spouses, the average salary significantly decreases despite impressive amounts of education, with nearly 89 percent having some college education.
War is here to stay.
Service member spouses continuously support war efforts. Since the inauguration of the United States, this country has been at peace for only twenty-one intermittent years since 1776. The U.S. has been at war for over 90 percent of its existence.
War is ongoing in the United States without a foreseeable end. Service member spouse unemployment will remain an issue as long as there are wars and service members to fight them. Proactive and sustained hiring and retention efforts are the only solutions that will resolve crisis-level service member spouse unemployment rates as the military and its families are here to stay. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and advocate for service member spouse employment.
Recent buzz provides a glimmer of hope.
Unveiling the 24 percent unemployment rate has been a catalyst for service member spouses. Second Lady Karen Pence actively advocates on behalf of service member spouses. Federal and state governments passed legislation in support of removing barriers to employment and enhancing federal employment opportunities. Corporations are spearheading service member spouse hiring initiatives. Government programs and non-profits are creating tangible solutions and providing free career services. These efforts are incredible steps in the right direction.
Hiring a service member spouse is good for business.
Military spouses are adaptable and resilient problem solvers. Frequently left to handle household affairs alone while the service member is deployed or at extended periods of training, the spouse will inevitably come face to face with Murphy’s Law—what can go wrong will go wrong. The dishwasher and car will break down the same week as the baby is sick and one of the kids is caught cursing at school. Handling chaotic military life requires true grit which is a valuable asset in the workforce.
Consider this history lesson. Between 1940 and 1945, around five million women entered the workforce because the men were fighting in World War II. With vital positions left vacant by the traditional male labor force, women stepped up, filled open jobs, and kept the struggling economy afloat. Service member spouses embody the “We can do it!” work ethic of Rosie the Riveter and demonstrate her resilience on a daily basis. Hiring a service member spouse is one of the smartest business decisions a company can make.
Retention is the remedy.
Hiring a service member spouse is honorable but short-sighted if companies don’t consider longevity. Service member spouses move every handful of years and retention is the key for successful, long-term careers. Businesses must incorporate flexibility, telework or work-from-home options, extra time off during deployments and relocations, extended parental leave, and transfers to new locations. Most importantly, companies must pay service member spouses fairly and stop financially penalizing them for the difficult circumstances imposed on them for honorably supporting the military.