New studies on military spouses look at barriers to employment

Military spouses are getting more validation for issues they have with unemployment and licensure issues.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) in conjunction with Prudential Financial is working on new data that tells military spouses what they already knew: staying employed is hard.

Unemployment for military spouses is three times higher than for their civilian counterparts. The series of studies focuses on unemployment, underemployment and job portability.

“As unemployment generally has improved for various populations including veterans, the ones that still need the most help are military spouses,” said IVMF Director of Applied Research and Analytics Rosalinda Vasquez Maury.

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One of the biggest barriers for military spouses is the number of times they move locations.

“We are in the midst of talking and speaking with military spouses about portability issues,” said Nick Armstrong, senior director of research and policy for IVMF. “We are also working with employers as well. We are in the midst of conducting interviews and focus groups with types of barriers they see with implementing human resources practices for spouses who may have to relocate.”

Vasquez Maury said part of the challenge for spouses is clearing up misconceptions hiring managers may have.

“One research question we have is through portability can we make sure there are no gaps in employment,” Vasquez Maury said. “That frequent relocation from an employer’s perspective they think, ‘Why hire them? They are going to leave in two or three years. We don’t want to train them or invest money in them because that’s lost money for the company.'”

While that is true in some areas, Vasquez Maury said IVMF is looking at new ways military families can work with employers to stay with the company.

Vasquez Maury and Armstrong are also trying to find out if there are barriers to companies in keeping military spouses on the payroll if they do work remotely or have flexible work schedules.

The studies are one of the few scientific looks into the lives of military spouses.

Blue Star Families is one of the few organizations to take an annual look at the lives of military spouses. IVMF bolsters Blue Star Families data.

“So many spouses had just given up looking for work,” Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families said in November 2017. “Unemployment means actively looking for work in the last four weeks. We think that the amount of attention Blue Star Families and our partners have been able to give to this topic has emboldened more military spouses to think that perhaps they could work and probably led them to seek it.”

Military spouses’ plight have gained some attention this past year.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a bill he hopes will give military spouses more opportunities to gain employment.

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill to make it easier for military spouses who are teachers to obtain loan forgiveness even if they have to move school districts.

Kaine met with military spouses and employers last October and said the meeting was part of the reason for the legislation he is proposing.

“We haven’t specifically worked on military spouse employment issues before. I heard that from the employers, I thought about it in terms of my own focus on issues in the committees,” Kaine said. “Getting an interview and having an employer look at you and say, ‘Wow, you’re really qualified, but boy you’re probably going to have to move in a year and a half maybe I should hire someone who is going to be here longer.”

Kaine’s bill modifies the federal hiring authority so federal agencies can hire military spouses faster.

“In a lot of areas, military bases and around the country and around the world, some of the best jobs right where the bases are, are federal jobs. Federal agencies that are co-located or close to military bases. We want to create expedited hiring authority for military spouses, much like we do with veterans to enable them to get these good jobs more quickly,” Kaine said in a Feb. 6 call with reporters.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.