Afraid of Unemployment? We Know Why

When MOAA’s new Military Spouse Employment Report found that 90% of military spouses were underemployed, Kathie Hightower wrote for us about how she wasn’t worried about spouse employment.

Kathie is a positive person. That's why I love her.  She put together this awesome list of the programs, services and advancements in military spouse employment.  (See Kathie's list here)

But secretly, I am not always positive about spouse employment.  I am a worrier.  We live in a time of  two-income families, rising mortgage costs, killer student loans, don't we?

We live in an economy in which it is hard for anyone to find a job. We live with  Congress that is determined to cut military personnel costs.  Our next move could be the end of work as I personally know it!!!

I told you I am a worrier.  But when it comes to spouse employment I am genuinely afraid because we are doing the wrong things.  Here is what scares me:

We are spending only $100 per spouse.

With all the programs and services available to military spouses, you would think we were spending a fortune to put the 90.75% of spouses who say they want to work into jobs.

Instead, the 2014 Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) budget is $79 million.

That sounds like a lot-- until you do some very rough math. If there are about 777,000 active duty military spouses out there and we are spending $79 million that means we spend a little more than $100 per spouse per year to fix problems caused by constant military moves, lack of childcare, rural locations, and overseas duty stations.

That money is not an indicator that the government is going to swoop in to help. That money is a check in the box. It means spouse employment is really a problem for you and your service member to solve. There is no government solution planned.

We offer existing programs before they are needed.

According to research from the RAND Corporation, the majority of  military spouses do not start reporting that the military is a problem for their careers until the third time they move.

Yet three-quarters of the SECO budget is spent on the MyCAA program. To qualify, you have to want to earn an associates degree and you must be married to someone who is E5 or below, W-1 or W-2, or 0-1 or 0-2 and below.

This means we are spending most of our funding on spouses who have not yet experienced the real need to have a portable career.

If the money for spouse employment is so limited, then why don’t we use that money to retrain spouses whose service members have decided to make the military a career and thus plan to PCS again and again?

We are ignoring how people actually get jobs.

Up to 80% of all jobs in the United States are found through networking, not applying for jobs on websites. The main reason spouses have trouble finding work is that we move them every 2.5 years to a place where they have no network.

Among spouses who responded to the MOAA Military Spouse Employment Report, only 37.5 percent were able to work their network to get them into a job.

The non-profit In Gear Career does a fine job of hooking military spouses into the local network, but they do not have a chapter in every location…yet. Wouldn’t funding for local networking chapters be a better use of limited monies?

You still have to outearn the babysitter.

According to the MOAA Military Spouse Employment Report, spouses with completed Bachelor’s degrees and above earned the most income.

Don’t write that off as a “duh” kind of thing.

Realize that military spouses are more likely to have children than their civilian age cohort. Whether that spouse has a degree or not, he or she must be able to outearn the daycare provider. Kids don’t raise themselves.

If you can’t outearn the cost of childcare, or if there is no good childcare in your area, the report shows that spouses tend not to work -- no matter how much they need the money.

Every day I hear from people about how important spouse employment is to the military. We know it matters financially. It matters to retention. It matters to transition. It matters when it comes to the life satisfaction of the military spouse.  This is why we do the research.

Yet all of us recognizing that  work is important and even wanting to get back into the workforce (now or years from now) is not enough to get a job.  As a spouse, I have often felt the big outside forces converging against my ability to be employed.  So I'm afraid.  I'm worried.

Yes, we have made some progress. But as the most recent research shows, we have not begun to solve this problem. We need to really look at the way spouses successfully navigate military life, then build a solution that suits their actual needs.

The more robust the body of research on military spouses becomes, the more we are obligated to actually use it to set policy.  We can't expect individual families to always work out solutions on their own.


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