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Survey Finds Most Military Spouses Underemployed

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About 90 percent of working female military spouses said they are underemployed at jobs below their experience level, education or both, according to a new report by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

The survey, conducted last fall, queried over 2,000 female military spouses. Researchers with Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families combined that data with information from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) to create a snapshot of military spouse employment challenges.

Female military spouses annually make less than their civilian counterparts, according to ACS data, the report states. For example, working female military spouses who moved in the last year and have kids at home under age 5 make about $15,000 a year less than civilian women meeting the same description.

"That is, to me, shocking," said Karen Golden, MOAA's deputy director of government relations and military family issues. "When we talk about this great number of people who are transiting to the civilian economy, that wage gap is huge. And that is what we need to start addressing."

The military plans to reduce its active-duty troop number by 40,000 this year.

The underemployment and income disparity could be, in part, due to duty station and relocations across state lines. Military spouses tend to move more often than their civilian counterparts. And those surveyed who lived in large metro areas made significantly more than those who did not, the study found.

The unemployment rate among 18- to 24-year-old female military spouses is about 30 percent, almost three times higher than the unemployment rate among civilians in that age group, the ACS data show. Over 55 percent of spouses who took the survey said they "need" to work, while 90 percent said they "want" to work, according to the MOAA survey.

 MOAA and IVMF officials said they hope the data will be used by the Defense Department when developing military spouse assistance programs.

"We hope that this work will inform the national discussion, helping  to create new programs, policies and initiatives that provide resources which will help this community to overcome challenges they face in the pursuit of economic empowerment," Rosalinda Maury, IVMF's director of research said in a statement. "The results of this study demonstrate that these challenges are significant and pervasive."

The report offers a variety of recommendations in response to the findings, including that the Defense Department decrease the number of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves. While the DoD's 2014 budget does include a 5 percent cut to the department's nearly $4 billion PCS budget, longer dwell time is unlikely to affect most military families for now. 

Other recommendations focused on educating spouses about what employment help benefits are available through the DoD and via private organizations, such as In Gear Career, and expanding existing employment help to meet spouse needs. The trick, the report said, is getting the word out.

"I think we're making progress in a lot of these things," Golden said. "But it's very important that not only our servicemembers and veterans know about this transition information, but the spouses have it too and they are prepared to enter the economy."

The Pentagon has recently expanded its spouse employment support offerings. Last month, officials launched a new web portal known as "My Individual Career Plan" (MyICP). The system is designed to help spouses develop and track a career plan. As of late last month, more than 1,200 MyICP profiles had been created since the Jan. 10 launch, according to the DoD.

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