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June 13, 2018

Military spouses face employment challenges, but help is on the way

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Photo courtesy Hiring Our Heroes.

Military spouses are the unsung heroes of America’s armed forces. But they often face high unemployment, stress and frustration as deployments and frequent moves derail careers and job opportunities, research shows. This not only puts additional stress on military families, but impacts military recruitment and retention, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports.

That’s why Washington employers have partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and others to support the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Program. Starbucks and Amazon recently hosted special events to launch the first statewide Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone.

“Like many military spouses, I have struggled at times to see how I was going to be able to maintain a career in my chosen field of public policy,” said Meredith Smith, wife of an active duty Air Force officer. Smith told the Hiring Our Heroes blog that she’s been lucky to carry on her career more often than not, thanks in part to professional advocates and friends who have arranged introductions and made recommendations. Smith takes part in the Military Spouse Professional Network, one of the many employment resources provided by the Hiring Our Heroes effort.

“The Military Spouse Professional Network helps facilitate the kind of professional network and support we all know is critical to maintaining a career, and it does so in a way that is accessible to more military spouses even amidst a sometimes-unpredictable life,” Smith said.

This effort also includes hiring and networking events, employment forums, training and career development to help military spouses succeed.

The unemployment rate for military spouses has ranged from roughly 20 to 25 percent over the last decade, the chamber reports. That means many families rely on the income of one service member while about 60 percent of American family households rely on two incomes.

“The subsequent stress and frustration create significant challenges for military families,” the chamber’s report reads. “The lack of equal economic opportunity for military spouses creates financial challenges and influences a family’s decision to stay in or leave the military.” This ultimately impacts America’s ability to recruit and retain an all-volunteer force, according to the chamber.

The impact of the military on Washington’s economy is significant. There were more than 64,000 active duty and reserve personnel in 2017, according to Governing Magazine. And defense spending topped $12 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports.

Beyond these big numbers are accessible resources for spouses looking for new opportunities. Special events have been scheduled for September at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. To learn more about the Military Spouse Professional Network at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, email jblm@ingearcareer.org or visit the group’s Facebook page here.

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