Military life is a tough job for the whole family

We all know military life can present challenges for a family. Having to constantly move from one city to another, can lead to child care issues, as well as tro...

We all know military life can present challenges for a family. Having to constantly move from one city to another, can lead to child care issues, as well as trouble for the military spouse to find a job in a new location. Way above the national average, military spouses register an unemployment rate of more than 20%. Since 2009, an organization called, “Blue Star Families” has tried to help military families navigate the challenges they will undoubtedly face. The Co-Founder and CEO of Blue Star Families, Kathy Roth-Douquet, recently talked with  the Federal Drive with Tom Temin Executive Producer Eric White.

Interview Transcript: 

Kathy Roth-Douquet We support military and veteran families. Obviously, the well-being of military families top of mind, financial security and that means military spouse employment is a number one issue, but it really speaks to our overall military and national security, too, because the ability for military families to have financial security enables the service member to stay and keep serving when the family doesn’t have financial security. This is number one reason why otherwise promotable people leave, is to get those two incomes that most American families need that’s so hard to get when you’re serving in the military. Blue Star families, we thrown a light on this issue first back in 2010, 2011, others, the [Department of Defense (DoD)], other organizations, have validated our finding consistently. Military spouses have had an unemployment rate in the 20 to 26% level consistently ever since then, as unemployment has improved for the nation, it has not for military families. And honestly, despite all of the money that has been spent and attention that’s been spent on the last ten years, it has not improved.

Eric White Is opening up the idea of as more jobs become accessible, not necessarily having to work in a location could be very, very helpful for folks that are told to pick up and move every so often. Do you foresee that maybe more telework could be the answer to finally getting those numbers down?

Kathy Roth-Douquet Yes, I do. I think this is exactly the kind of intervention that’s going to make a difference. Blue Star families, we look at not only the problems, but what are the likely solutions. And what we see people telling us. Well, first of all, it’s the military lifestyle that’s the barrier to work, as military spouses twice as educated as their civilian counterparts. These are really work ready people. But the frequent moves, the work service members, job responsibilities and the lack of child care that comes along with those frequent moves are the real barriers. Setting childcare aside, that is, for many people, the number one issue. In our surveys, military spouses identify remote work as being the number one thing that would help them work the way they want to. 69% of military spouses in our survey say that they would like to work remotely. And then when we ask those who have jobs that are amenable to telework. And every job is. Schoolteacher, can’t telework, nurse can’t telework. But if you are in a profession that would allow for teleworking like, radio personality, for instance, or a nonprofit executive, for instance, 85% of spouses who have those kinds of professions say they would like to telecommute and they are not telecommuting.

Eric White So you all are obviously supporting the Telework Reform Act that has been brought forth in the Senate. What specifically about it do you all favor, other than them saying, yes, we support this. How would it actually get military spouses in those roles with the federal government where telework is ok?

Kathy Roth-Douquet Yes, The Telework Act is a fantastic act, we 100% support it. By targeting military spouses as a particular class to get these jobs, it makes it much easier for people to navigate the federal hiring system, which, as you may know, is a very cumbersome process. And I think it helps the hiring authorities that through some of the confusion and the part of the hiring managers to find those folks. Federal jobs are great jobs for military spouses. We’re already involved in serving the nation as military families. So serving the government is very compatible, tend to be very mission driven people. It works well with the overall family lifestyle. So this job, by focusing on the federal government, does something that Congress can do. Can’t do that very easily with the private sector, but you can affect the government. And then the government can create standards that can help the private sector follow. And that’s something that we at Blue Star Families are doing. We are going to be on Dec.6 unveiling an effort to challenge the private sector, to follow along with the progress that’s been made on the government sector to make jobs great, the conditions in private sector jobs, to allow military spouses to work, to allow for the kind of security, stability, prosperity and freedom we need for those private sector companies to thrive.

Eric White Telework exploded, obviously, during and now in the after days of the pandemic. I’m curious on what you all were hearing from military spouses. You said the numbers didn’t really change. Were they really not affected as much by the pandemic as well, just because they weren’t already in roles that would have been closed down due to it?

Kathy Roth-Douquet I think that’s a great point, Eric. They weren’t already in those roles that would have been closed down. So they were facing that unemployment. The childcare still is a problem, even if you’re working remotely. You still need childcare. You can’t do your job if you have to mind your children, too. One of the things we point out is that there’s a lot of interlocking issues, but we can solve that wide availability of telework and the ease of the families. Being able to find that work is an important step to getting us to where we need to be.

Eric White All right. And so let’s focus on Congress. You talked about something that’s in Congress that you all are in favor of. There is a possibility of another shutdown coming. I’m curious on what your organization’s stance was on that and how that may also affect the military family with the uncertainty that comes with that.

Kathy Roth-Douquet Yeah, I mean, we’re vigorously fighting the idea of a shutdown. Vigorously, because it is devastating to military families. First of all, a third of military families have less than $3,000 in savings. And that will not get you through a month of not getting paid. That will not allow you to pay your rent and your child care if you have it on your food bill. So then everything goes on credit cards. A lot of times things are on credit cards already because that’s where they go when you move. And so you then create a financial crisis for people. But even more than that is the psychological discouragement that our civilian leaders aren’t able to do their job. When people, families like mine, families like the 275,000 members of Blue Star families feel like we’re willing to put everything on the line to do our job for this nation. And yet, these folks in Congress are not able to just do their job. The very basic part of their job is to pass a budget. We’re not telling you what that should look like, just pass it. Because it’s not just the salaries, it’s also having the missions frozen, having the training’s frozen, having the resupply of arms frozen. These are the building blocks of how we do our job. And then on top of it, this devastating so-called promotion block is really a leadership loss. I think you saw this terrible thing that our commandant flashed holding down two jobs, because we haven’t been able to properly promote people while we’ve got war breaking out all over the world. Had a role to play in that. You think having the Fifth Fleet in the Mediterranean without a commanding officer able to be promoted? So all these things undermine the military and their families, sense that we should be putting ourselves on the line for this political leadership. We need to straighten this out.

Eric White And just finishing up on other things that you all are hoping for. I was hearing a recurring pattern of childcare. There has been some movement in the Pentagon to try and get more child care options available to military families. But what are you all looking for on that front, when you talk to leadership in Washington?

Kathy Roth-Douquet Yeah, we have a very exciting initiative that we’ve been exploring that we’re not quite ready to unveil. But I’m looking forward to when we can and will be among the first that we let know about it. I think it’s time for us to face that this isn’t a little fix. It’s a structural issue throughout the country, but certainly for our military. 30% of the people coming into the military are female. We do need to have a next generation. We need to let people have children. We need to work when we have children. So we have an idea, we’ve been working on it with some of our friends in Congress and some of our partners in the White House. We think it’ll create structural change along the lines of the way that the G.I. Bill created structural change. So we think it’s time for bold solutions. Stand back.

Eric White And not to mention most people who join the military do it because their mom or dad served, right?

Kathy Roth-Douquet Yeah. We want that future class of military people. We’re going to have to give birth to them.

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