Untapped Talent: America’s Military Spouses

National Veterans and Military Families Month are recognized each November to honor the service and sacrifices made by our veterans, service members, and their spouses. Many may not realize that by keeping our veterans and military spouses employed, it helps sustain our nation’s all-volunteer force.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau data clearly indicate that veterans have lower unemployment rates and higher earnings in the workforce than their non-veteran counterparts. That data is not the same for the nearly one million military spouses who make significant sacrifices to support their service member’s careers. Frequent mandatory moves and interstate occupational licensing challenges lead to high unemployment for military spouses.

Military spouses, 88 percent of whom are women, possess about the same level of education as the general public: 33 percent hold a bachelor’s degree, and 17 percent have earned a graduate or professional degree, according to the Department of Defense (DoD) 2019 Survey of Military Spouses. This survey and a 2021 Blue Star Families Survey have consistently estimated that military spouse unemployment rates are four times higher than the national average.

While many military spouses are superbly qualified in a wide variety of fields, they often struggle to find and sustain a rewarding career. They are often overlooked for positions because they lack career continuity or don’t have enough time in a new location to put down the roots necessary to grow a network.

Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families reported that military spouses move across state lines 10 times more often than their civilian counterparts. Frequent relocations lead to a challenging and winding career path for military spouses, a problem that is exacerbated by the difficulty of transferring occupational licenses that are typically regulated at the state level. For the 35 percent of military spouses who work in a field requiring a license, this often results in unemployment or underemployment because of the time it takes to become certified in that new state. It’s even more challenging in overseas or isolated locations where job opportunities are extremely limited.

VETS launched three initiatives to help address military spouse unemployment: Transition Employment Assistance for Military Spouses (TEAMS), an online licensing and credentialing tool, and Employer Navigator and Partnership Pilot (ENPP).

TEAMS is a series of Department of Labor employment workshops that extend the Department’s Transition Assistance Program to military spouses interested in pursuing a new career path.

VETS has also established an online tool for military spouses with information on interstate licensing, licensing reimbursement, occupations with interstate reciprocity agreements, and other resources to help find state-specific information about occupational requirements.

VETS launched ENPP in 2021, and it is now available in 21 locations worldwide. ENPP provides one-on-one career assistance for transitioning service members and their spouses in partnership with selected employment and training organizations =in both the public and private sector.

In support of National Veterans and Military Families Month, I invite employers from across the nation to seek out and hire military spouses. Contact a VETS’ Regional Veterans’ Employment Coordinator who can connect employers with federal, state, and other resources to help them find and hire military spouses, transitioning service members, and veterans. Finding suitable employment for our military spouses is fundamental to maintaining our all-volunteer force and is a great way to support the military families who serve our nation.

The Honorable James D. Rodriguez is the Assistant Secretary for the Department of Labor’s Veteran Employment and Training Service. vets-outreach@dol.gov