On Veterans Day, a reminder of a different cost of service: Why military spouses have a hard time getting hired
I’m honored to donate my time as an ambassador for Blue Star Families, the largest nonprofit organization serving active duty service members and their families through chapters in the US. To get a sense of the major challenges facing military spouses as they seek employment I spoke to Kathy Roth-Douquet, the organization’s CEO. She is a practicing attorney, a military spouse of 18 years and the author of “AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service and How it Hurts Our Country”.
Keilar: Some people might wonder why we are talking about military spouse jobs on Veterans Day, when we honor Americans who have served. I’ve heard you make the case for why this is the perfect day to talk about it. Tell us why.
Roth-Douquet: On Veterans Day we do honor veterans’ service, but many don’t know that among the sacrifices veterans make is this — many effectively pay what is effectively a “tax” that can be equal or even greater than their entire salaries as a result of their service. That’s because American households today need two incomes, yet military spouses are often unable to work, or work far below their experience and training. This means veterans while they serve are often struggling with household incomes far below their peers whose spouses work. Moreover, that broken spouse work history affects veterans’ transitions into the civilian world, too. At Blue Star Families, we often say there are few better things you can give a transitioning veteran than a spouse with a job!
Roth-Douquet: Employment is very low, just over 3% in many cases. And yet, military spouses have been experiencing one of the longest recessions ever recorded — 24% unemployment for the past 10 years, and 60% underemployment. This causes real distress for these women and men, who desperately want to contribute to their family’s financial security.
Why isn’t the employment boom translating? Because many people find jobs through people they know, and the military career requires frequent moves to places military families have no prior connections. Broken time in resumes can cause automatic HR systems to reject highly qualified people. Sometimes employers fear that the military will move the family again so they don’t want to invest, despite the fact that most millennials change jobs as frequently as military moves. The result? Employers are losing access to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of great employees, and our veterans and their families are struggling.
Keilar: Most employers see breaks in employment as a blemish on a resume. In the case of military spouses, however, it’s due to their frequent moves. What are employers doing to adjust for that in their hiring processes and what more do they need to do?
Roth-Douquet: It’s critical that employers educate themselves and their HR departments about military spouses. These are folks that have successfully managed multiple moves, the complex responsibilities of military life. They tend to be fantastic organizers, great project managers, loyal and unflappable — all skills that may not show on their resumes. It’s imperative that employers not just look at the last position a person held but the totality of the background. And it’s important they not judge the break in resume. We ask employers to look at us, Blue Star Families, for help finding great military spouse employees, go to Hiring Our Heroes spouse program, and the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Program.
Keilar: A lot of military spouses are in professions that require state licenses. You, for instance, are a lawyer. What challenges does that create as military families move from state to state?
Roth-Douquet: Over a thousand jobs require a license today — about a quarter of all jobs. … I passed the bar in California, then in the next four years was in DC, North Carolina and South Carolina — there wasn’t even time to sit for a new bar in each place! That can mean you cannot use your training to get a new job as you move from state to state. This includes physical therapists or social workers who may need to not only sit for an exam and pay a new licensing fee, but get a volume of practice hours that create an absolute barrier to maintaining a career someone loves.
This has got to change for families moving on military orders — it’s not only demoralizing and leads to a loss of income, but often families are stuck paying off loans for a profession they are prevented from practicing due to their spouses’ military service. It’s insult to injury. Some states are passing laws to waive licensing for a period of time for military spouses — this is the right thing to do.
Keilar: You spent 18 years as a military spouse and have gone through nine moves and four deployments. What can civilians do to support military families?
Roth-Douquet: Civilians can do a lot to support military families! Certainly — hire a military spouse or a veteran. And once hired, understand the stresses of military life, and understand a little flexibility around deployments goes a long way. Remember those deployments keep us safe and establish the conditions for our freedom and safety. Know that most military families don’t live on bases anymore, they are in your community and need your support and friendship, they are in your schools. Blue Star Families seeks to help connect military and civilian neighbors so come to our website. We have a video you can watch and learn more.
Finally, I just want to say that strong relationships with our community really helps veterans and military families stay strong, do our jobs, and give back to the country. We really appreciate you shining the spotlight on us!
CNN’s Veronica Bautista contributed to this report.