Lawmakers expanding military spouse employment programs

Military spouses experience the highest unemployment rate in the country. A congressional panel is pushing for military spouse support in the 2025 defense bill.

For years, military spouses have remained one of the highest unemployment demographics in the country. The unemployment rate for active duty military spouses has held steady at around 22% for quite some time, although the federal government doesn’t track the exact number.

The Government Accountability Office estimated that there were about 540,000 civilian spouses of active duty service members in 2021. About 90% of those spouses are women.

Approximately half of those spouses were employed in 2021 and about a third of them worked part-time.

Military spouses working part-time told the watchdog they were underpaid or overqualified for their jobs, not earning retirement benefits, and lacked career advancement opportunities. While civilian workers often encounter similar difficulties — frequent moves exacerbate employment challenges for military spouses. 

“[Military spouse employment] has been a top issue for military families since the 2009 survey. And we’ve seen it year over year as this being one of the primary challenges that military families are facing — challenges in spouses being able to stay employed,” Jessica Strong, the senior director of applied research, told Federal News Network. 

“When military service members are moved and relocated from place to place in the course of their military service, often that means that spouses have to leave a job behind that they worked hard for or have to transfer their professional license to a new duty station or to a new state. Or even move overseas, where they have fewer opportunities for employment. We have highlighted that as a primary concern and how it impacts military families’ likelihood to stay in service or to recommend military service to the next generation.” 

Spouse employment was one of several issues lawmakers took to heart when they addressed the quality of life panel last year. After months of work, the panel’s final recommendations to better support spouses are out.

In 2022, the Defense Department authorized $5 million in total for a three-year pilot program to provide fellowship opportunities for military spouses. The program has proven to be successful — last year, 422 fellows participated in the pilot program, exceeding the one-year goal of enrolling 400 fellows. About 85% of those fellows secured a job with an average salary of $65,000 and above. In January, over 100 military spouses enrolled in the program and of the 23 spouses who have already completed their fellowships — all of them found permanent employment.

As Congress ramps up its defense authorization work this month, the panel recommends that lawmakers permanently authorize the pilot program to continue facilitating spouse fellowship opportunities.

Additionally, the panel wants the Defense Department to expand childcare access for military spouses looking for a job. 

Military spouses seeking employment have to verify their employment status every 30 days once their child is enrolled in a childcare program. Unless an extension is granted, their child can be removed from the program after 90 days of unemployment.

The panel says eligibility for child care programs should be expanded from 90 days to 180 days without having to obtain authorization from an installation commander. 

Transferring professional licenses has long been a challenge for military spouses. In 2020, lawmakers authorized the Defense Department to work with the Council of State Governments to reduce the relicensing burden spouses face when relocating to a different state. 

There are currently seven agreements that are up for consideration by state legislatures in 2024 — massage therapy compact, school psychologist compact, social work compact, cosmetology compact, dietitians compact, dentists and dental hygienists compact and interstate teacher mobility compact.

As of now, the Defense Department’s authority to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Council of State Governments expires in September. The panel recommends that the 2025 defense bill gives the DoD permanent authority to work with the council to help more spouses navigate different licensing requirements when they move.

“I could tell you countless stories that we heard from the countless people who came in front of our working group about why all of this is so important,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) said during a press conference last week. 

2025 costs complications

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2025 proposed budget is only 1% higher than this year’s budget request, which could result in reduced spending on a wide range of programs. Lawmakers, however, vowed to get all of the final report’s recommendations into the 2025 defense policy bill.

“Every year we have struggled with defense spending. This year is no different. But we’re going to at a minimum have an $895 billion bill, we’re going to find the room in that bill to do this. But yes, we’re going to have complications. I’m not going to argue that we won’t, but this is because a whole spectrum of threats and platforms and issues. But this is going to be done,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).


Nearly Useless Factoid

By: Derace Lauderdale

Underemployment affects 31.6% of military spouses, many of whom desire full-time positions.

Source: U.S. VeteransMagazine 

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)FILE - This April 19, 2019 file photo shows a sign for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon in Washington. The Biden administration’s nominee for top Pentagon policy adviser was met with sharp criticism from Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, including accusations that he has been too partisan to be confirmed for the job. Colin Kahl, who served as national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama administration, faced repeated questions on his previous support for the Iran nuclear deal and how he would approach that issue now. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

    Passing 2025 defense spending bill will be ‘particularly difficult’

    Read more
    Federal News Radio pinwheel icon

    Military spouse unemployment continues to weigh on service member families

    Read more
    (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erick Requadt)Senior Master Sgt. Paul Kalle, 723d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant, speaks with a family during a Deployed Spouses Dinner Feb. 18, 2020, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The monthly event is a free dinner at Georgia Pines Dining Facility designed as a ‘thank you’ for each families’ support and sacrifice while their spouse is deployed or on a remote assignment. The dinner, occurring on every third Tuesday of the month, provides an opportunity for spouses to interact with other families of deployed Airmen, key spouses and unit leadership, as well as provide a break for the spouse while military sponsor is deployed. The next Deployed Spouses Dinner will be March 17. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erick Requadt)

    Fewer active-duty military families encourage young people to enlist

    Read more