Military spouse unemployment continues to weigh on service member families

Service members and their families are continuing to worry about their financial situations as the world feels the effect of increased prices due to the war in Ukraine and backlash from the pandemic.

The largest annual study of military families found that spouse unemployment is the biggest stressor for the second year in a row for service members and their partners.

Forty-three percent of active duty families surveyed said spousal unemployment is an issue for...

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Service members and their families are continuing to worry about their financial situations as the world feels the effect of increased prices due to the war in Ukraine and backlash from the pandemic.

The largest annual study of military families found that spouse unemployment is the biggest stressor for the second year in a row for service members and their partners.

Forty-three percent of active duty families surveyed said spousal unemployment is an issue for them.

“Many military families need dual incomes to be financially secure, are concerned about their children’s education and well-being, and want to establish roots and contribute to their communities,” the authors of the survey wrote. “However, the unique demands of military service mean families must serve and sacrifice along with their service member, and this results in exceptional issues and challenges for the entire military family.”

The survey found that 20% of military spouses in the labor force are unemployed and actively seeking work. The national unemployment rate at the time of the survey responses was 6%; it has since fallen to 3.8%. However, 42% of military spouses reported they are not in the labor force and looking for employment.

There are a combination of issues keeping spouses from holding jobs. Nearly half of the spouses said they would be looking for a new job in the next year, 33% of those spouses said it was because their family will be relocating because of new orders.

Underemployment also continues to be an issue for 63% of spouses.

One of the combining factors in keeping spouses from employment is the lack of reliable child care. A third of active duty spouses reported the expense of child care as the reason they are not in the work force. Only 24% of active duty families said they can’t find a child care situation that works for them.

“The process of finding child care can be challenging for many, but spouses with children who have special needs face additional difficulties finding care,” the authors wrote.

Other financial issues are weighing down service members as well.

Two-thirds of military families say they still have unreimbursed costs from their last permanent change of station and more than half said those expenses were more than $1,000.

The most recent defense authorization act gives the Defense Department the discretion to give service members who are struggling financially a universal base income for things like food. That came after studies from the Agriculture Department found some service members were struggling to feed their families.

“There’s really two key findings that are really important to focus on here. The first is that one in three active duty soldiers in our sample were classified as marginally food insecure,” said Matthew Rabbit, an economist at the USDA Economic Research Service. “The second key finding here is that the mental health of our service members is key to their long term connection to the military and the well being of their families. Given that we find the service members’ mental health is associated with their food insecurity, addressing food insecurity may be one way to improve these outcomes.”

Marginally food insecure encompasses individuals who report any indications of compromised economic access to food among themselves and their families, which are classified as having marginal, low or very low food security according to the Agriculture Department’s food security status classification system.

DoD is also trying to tackle the military spouse employment issues. The Pentagon and Congress have implemented multiple programs for professional licensure reciprocity between states.

The Air Force recently announced its Five and Thrive program to help with spousal unemployment and other areas of concern.

The Thrive team publishes a monthly Spouse Situation Report to communicate and share information with military spouses, as well as keep them abreast of policy changes and new resources.

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