Military spouses are forced to adapt to challenges that those outside the military rarely face. Between relocating every few years, managing households, raising children alone during deployments, and learning to live without their partner for months at a time, military spouses make marked sacrifices. Unfortunately, one of the most significant sacrifices military spouses make is that of giving up their careers to support their active service members wherever their
military career may take them.
According to the Department of Defense, military spouse unemployment has been more than seven times the national average for over a decade. In 2019, military spouses faced a staggering 22% unemployment rate and 26% wage gap when compared to their non-military peers. Currently and due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, both unemployment and the wage gap among military spouses are on the rise.
When asked about the challenges they face, military spouses cite multiple factors that hinder their ability to pursue careers. For many, moving every two to three years creates a significant obstacle to career development and growth. For others, the distance from family and difficulty finding reliable and affordable childcare make it impossible to consider full time employment.
Those in professions that require certifications and licenses, such as nurses and teachers, which account for approximately 34% of military spouses, cite that the costs and recertification processes, which are often state-specific, can be prohibitive, especially when they don’t know how long their spouse will remain at each duty station.
A study by Blue Star Families, an organization established in 2009 with the goal of “empowering military families to thrive as they serve,” found that the reduced labor force participation among military spouses costs the U.S. economy almost $1 billion per year. The cost to military families is also significant. With home prices on the rise, housing shortages on military installations, and inflation rates climbing, many military families require two incomes to meet their financial and lifestyle goals.
Yet, with the obstacles they face, military spouses are often forced into involuntary part time employment, direct sales, and other less lucrative forms of employment. Many remain unemployed because finding the right match seems impossible and opportunities vary greatly from one location to another.
While representing a notable loss for the economy and for military families themselves, military spouse underemployment also represents a loss for employers. Per Blue Star Families, approximately 45% of military spouses, 92% of which are female, have bachelor's or advanced degrees in contrast to about 33% in the general population. Military spouses possess extensive skills that would benefit a wide range of workplaces and industries.
Their ability to navigate the demands of a military lifestyle while pursuing fulfilling work proves that they are driven and mission-focused. The skills they develop while managing their homes, coordinating relocations, caring for their families, and supporting their spouse in what is an exceptionally demanding profession, demonstrate their adaptability, dedication, and perseverance, qualities from which a wide range of businesses and organizations can truly benefit.