Unemployment may be down, but not for military spouses

Matt Saintsing
May 11, 2018 - 4:06 pm

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The nation’s unemployment rate edged down just below 4 percent last month, the lowest it’s been since 2000. But what’s true for the nation, isn’t true for military spouses—92 percent of which are women. But when compared to their civilian counterparts, military spouses experience unemployment up to four times that of the national average. 

May 11 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, the perfect opportunity to recognize those who help our nation’s military by securing the home front, by confronting the unique challenges they face.

Among military spouses who are employed, 14 percent are in part-time jobs, half of which are looking for full-time work. Experts and spouses alike say frequent moves can deeply impact a spouse’s job prospects.

“If you’re moving around it’s really hard to move up in a career,” said Rosalinda Vasquez Maury, the director of applied research and analytics at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF.)

“With every move comes a new job for a spouse and they don’t start at the middle, they start at the bottom. If you’re always moving around, it’s easy to get stuck at the bottom.”

That reality, mixed with the other of the specific challenges that military spouses disproportionately face, can make getting a job an immense challenge but also presents spouses the opportunity to showcase their strengths as they navigate through military life.

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Beth Kubala, a senior director for programs and services at IVMF and retired Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, spent her entire 22-year military career as a military spouse and said flexibility is key—something military spouses are quite familiar with.

“You have to be able to adapt to different situations and locations where you are,” Kubala said. “For me, I had the mindset of I’m doing whatever it takes to take care of my family as well as my career.”

Her advice to military spouses is to be willing to look for jobs that are more flexible, and said those spouses who could persuade their employer to work remotely did well.

Location of military installations can play a major factor, as there are limited job opportunities in remote, rural areas. Kubala’s advice to military spouses is to have an open mind when applying to jobs, and said spouses who could persuade their employer to work remotely, generally did well.

Employers that glance at a resume and see a variety of jobs in several locations are timid to hire such candidates. But explaining to hiring managers about gaps and variance in employment can go a long way.

“Not only could a typical spouse resume contain four different cities, it could also have four different industries based on what was available to them at the time,” adds Vasquez Maury.

Additionally, companies that have veteran hiring initiatives often think they understand military culture. “There’s an assumption that since they’re doing wonderful things for veterans, they must be doing the same for military spouses,” she said.

“And, that’s just not the case.”

So, when updating a resume or preparing for an interview, it’s important for spouses to not sell themselves short and to help make employers realize the reality of military life.

Miilitary spouses are highly adaptable and some to the workforce with a variety of skills often sought after. They’re resourceful, entrepreneurial, adaptable and well educated. That’s why they can move across the county, or overseas, with little notice.

Something that doesn’t always make it to the resume are quantifiable volunteer work, or contributions to their families that would otherwise be hired out.

“These attributes absolutely can transfer from the family to the office,” Vasquez Maury said.

Kubala said that when her husband was deployed to Iraq, her family got orders to Germany. So, while her husband was unable to help with much of the heavy lifting, she had to send personal and unaccompanied baggage overseas, decide what to put in storage, and even had to figure out how they could take their dog.

“That alone should have certified me as a project management professional, “said Kubala.

But, she stressed, that’s not uncommon with military spouses.