High military spouse unemployment rate poses a threat to US national security, panel discussion concludes

Various factors have caused difficulties for the spouses in finding good jobs, including frequent movement, and this is gradually eroding the armed forces' capacity in recruiting and retaining personnel since the families' stability is at risk.

                            High military spouse unemployment rate poses a threat to US national security, panel discussion concludes
(Getty Images)

The American military is one of the most admired ones in the world but all is not well with the force nowadays. A few days ago, it came to the fore that the army is having a serious shortage of surgeons which has imperiled its battlefield healthcare. And now, it is revealed that the army is facing yet another challenge, which is a soft but serious one. 

The problem is about the employment of military spouses (an overwhelming number of whom are women). They are facing difficulty in getting good-paying jobs and this problem is now being identified with national security and not just an individual concern, according to the Washington Times, since it is challenging the military’s ability to recruit personnel. 

The Times has cited warnings coming from a panel at the Brookings Institution featuring experts like Holly Petraeus, wife of former VIA director and retired Army Gen David Petraeus. It also cited Mike Haynie, executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, who said that several policy experts have failed to understand how high unemployment rates among military spouses put stress on families and military services as a whole.

“They say, ‘That’s not security. That’s not relevant to what we do’. But it absolutely should be. If we don’t get this right, the cracks in the all-volunteer force model are going to become chasms. I think things will fall apart,” Haynie was quoted as saying.

Unemployment among military spouses four times higher than the national rate 

A 2017 study undertaken by the US Chamber of Commerce pointed out that the unemployment rate among military spouses was at 16 percent (in 2017), more than four times the rate in the whole economy. Though it has come down from 23 percent recorded in 2015, yet it is a big challenge. Besides, military spouses also earn almost 27 percent less in wages that their non-military counterparts. 

Kendra Kaplan, 5 months pregnant, watches as her husband SSG Joshua Kaplan and fellow U.S. Army soldiers arrive on August 18, 2009 in Fort Carson, Colorado. She had brought a sealed envelope with an ultrasound, so that they could learn the baby's gender together upon Joshua's arrival. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A study undertaken by the White House Council of Economic Advisers in May 2018 brought out the many challenges that military spouses face in the marketplace. According to its findings, only 57 percent of military spouses are in the workforce as against 76 percent of the general working-age population. “Military families make many sacrifices for American security and prosperity … Frequent moves, unpredictable hours, rural base assignments, and deployments all take a toll on the labor market outcomes of military spouses," the Council of Economic Advisers said.

Underemployment too is an issue

It becomes doubly hard for the military spouses to find jobs as employers often feel reluctant to hire those who face frequent transfers that are unpredictable too. Even for many of the military spouses, under-employment is a major problem. Since their location is always unstable, they are forced to pick whatever job they find, irrespective of their educational backgrounds.

A high number of military spouses (about a third) do not stay with their partners in military and money often becomes a big reason for separation. The gravity of the situation could be sensed when Haynie said that more and more military parents today are advising their children against opting for the same career. “That should tell us something, and it should scare us,” he said.

For many, deciding to pursue a military career today it is no longer an individual decision. “It’s a family decision. We recruit the service member, but we retain the family,” Marcus Beauregard, director of the Defense Department’s state liaison office was quoted as saying by Times.

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