When I married my spouse and signed on to military life, I knew that there would be challenges. I imagined deployments and TDYs, solo parenting, living on a budget…the usual things that first come to mind. 

Yet one of the hardest challenges was the one I was least prepared for: finding and maintaining a career as a military spouse.

Finding a job or maintaining a career is tough when you move frequently. Even if you are in a location for a longer period of time, there are barriers to finding adequate and flexible employment to meet your needs. Military spouse unemployment is a problem. According to Blue Star Families 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, “the current unemployment rate of our military spouse respondents is nearly seven times the rate of similar civilian peers (20% vs. 3%)1 and has not appreciably improved since 2012.” 

Barriers to Military Spouse Employment

The biggest barrier to maintaining a career as a military spouse is still the frequency of PCS moves. 

Obviously, you will be moving locations and leaving a job behind. But the demands of a military move often mean that you will require time before leaving one duty station and after arrival at the next to execute your move. Service members are given house hunting time and can take leave to help with moving. But in reality, the onus often falls on the military spouse to be available for movers, new doctors, new schools, setting up utilities, and more. It can be difficult to fit in job searching in the midst of everything, which might leave gaps in your career and resume. 

Orders generally mean that you and your family will be staying at a location for 2-4 years. Plenty of time to establish yourself, right? Yes and no. Job searching can take time. You could be viewed unfairly because of your status as a military spouse. Employers are not allowed to discriminate when hiring a military spouse, but from a human resources perspective, it makes more sense to hire someone that will not move again in a few years. 

There are some overseas locations where employment options are limited. When we were stationed in Italy, my only job options were on the base because of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) there. If your license or certifications cannot be used outside of the U.S. or certain states, this can be a huge impediment. 

Finally, a lack of affordable childcare options often means that military spouses cannot afford to work outside the home. You may move to a high COLA or Cost of Living area where childcare costs are high, and your choice may be made for you.

Resources for Military Spouse Employment

While it seems the odds are stacked against us, there are options available to military spouses. If you are a federal employee or would like to pursue a career in that sector, you may use your Military Spouse Preference (MSP) up to 30 days before reporting to a new duty station. This allows you to get a leg up against other candidates. Find more information on federal job and this benefit here.

If you can, take advantage of programs that can assist you in career training and procurement. The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program (SECO) provides military spouses with support and guidance for all career types and education levels. There are self-assessments for education and career goals, a scholarship finder, and more. MyCAA is a free education grant for military spouses to help get credentials or training for their careers. This is only open to spouses of certain ranks, so check eligibility requirements first.

Some licenses and credentials can transfer from state to state. If yours does not, you can apply for reimbursement. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act allows each service branch to reimburse spouses for up to $1000 when they complete a PCS move. Find out more about this benefit from Military OneSource.

Lastly, consider alternative work options. Remote work grew significantly during the recent pandemic, and more employers are open to this option as a result of this. Talk to your employer before moving about working remotely. You can also search for these types of positions, which will allow you to move and keep your position. If you have an idea for a product or a business, consider entrepreneurship. Owning your own business as a military spouse can be challenging but convenience for you and your family. The Association of Military Spouse Entrepreneurs is a community built to support prospective and current entrepreneurs in all stages of business; visit their website to learn more.

The more we talk about military spouse unemployment, the more we can build awareness and support for this issue. In the meantime, consider your options when PCSing and decide what is best for you and your family. If you need support, use any of the above resources and ask for help. 

 

Rachel Carpenter is the co-owner and editor of The Military Mom Collective. She has been an Air Force spouse for 18 years and is a mother of four children. She holds a BA in English and a MA in Management. When not busy with work or her family, she enjoys reading as many books as possible and drinking all of the coffee.
Rachel is also the editor at AMSE, the Association of Military Spouse Entrepreneurs, and a freelance writer. She has been featured on We Are The Mighty, Her View From Home, AMSE, Hand-in-Hand QC, and other publications. She has been writing for over 10 years and loves staying connected with the military community. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.