Understand the Issues Facing Military Spouses

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe five factors influencing the high rate of military spouse unemployment and underemployment.
  • Relate a military spouse’s first-hand account of the unique difficulty with finding adequate employment.

The Top Issues Facing Military Spouses

Military spouse unemployment is one of the top issues facing this population, trailing only slightly behind family separations. Military spouse unemployment is reported to be around 16% and underemployment as high as 70%. 

Like most civilian families, military families often need two incomes to thrive. This issue can significantly reduce the military spouse’s satisfaction with military life and is one of the contributing factors that cause families to ultimately leave the military. Even when employed, military spouses reportedly earn approximately 38% less than their counterparts. 

Frequent Relocation

Frequent relocation is arguably the top cause of the military spouse employment crisis. Moves by a military family are typically completed every 18 months to 4 years, depending on the service member’s branch and specialty. These moves are to locations across the United States and even all over the world—from metropolitan areas to tropical islands to remote and rural areas.

“In the first seven years of our marriage we lived at four different bases and I’ve had five different employers. Every time we moved my career was at the mercy of the local economy. You don’t have a lot of say in where you get stationed, and it’s hard to know what kinds of industries or options are going to be available at the next base. Some bases have large local economies while others are very isolated and on-post employment is effectively the only option. It takes an extra level of effort to network effectively when you move frequently and don’t know where your next move will take you.

Before I married into the Army I had a meaningful career working with a nonprofit organization. I had a good salary and opportunities for growth and advancement. After our first move I spent seven months looking for a job. Even though laws prohibit discrimination because I’m a military spouse, it was challenging to find a company that would hire me knowing that I would only be in the area for a few years. I ended up taking an entry level position with a large pay cut.” —Skye Evans, Salesforce Consultant and military spouse

Scarcity of Flexible Positions

Blue Star Families reports that of the military spouses not currently working, 79% would choose to work if a flexible position was available in their field. Due to moving, deployments, unpredictable schedules, and a lack of childcare, some spouses are unable to hold a position with traditional hours and on-site requirements. And some families choose for the military spouse to not hold a traditional position because so much of the burden of everyday life falls on the shoulders of the spouse.

A photo of a person working from a home office.

License Transferability

Military spouses work in nearly every industry. And more than a third (35%) work in occupations that require a state-issued license such as healthcare, law, real estate, social work, and teaching. However, transferring the licenses that are often required for these positions with each and every move takes a considerable amount of time and money. There has been a push in recent years to remedy this problem with legislation at the state level, but the language in these pieces of legislation are vague and their policies aren’t widely known even by state offices.

Access to Childcare

Securing reliable, affordable childcare with every move is a major barrier to employment. Frequent deployments and travel assignments, as well as a lack of family support nearby, compound this issue. 53% of military spouses looking for work report childcare to be one of the top three obstacles in finding work.

Lack of Understanding

Companies and hiring departments unfamiliar with the challenges facing military families may not understand the business value of hiring a military spouse when their resume is showing gaps in work, unrelated positions, and a list of locations around the world. Because of this, organizations may not consider offering flexible positions or remote roles that would attract military spouse applicants.