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New survey highlights spouse employment problems

Feb. 12, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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A new study puts hard data behind what many military spouses already know: On average, they earn about 38 percent less than their civilian counterparts, and they’re about 30 percent more likely to be unemployed.

And of those who are employed, about 90 percent say they are “underemployed” — they have more formal education and/or experience than their current job requires.

About 2,700 spouses of active-duty and reserve members, veterans and military retirees, as well as surviving spouses, participated in the survey last fall, a joint effort of Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Military Officers Association of America.

The majority, 2,059, of survey respondents were female spouses of active-duty members. The survey was conducted online, and participants were not recruited using scientific methodology.

“The results ... demonstrate a need for concerted efforts to improve the employment issues currently faced by military spouses,” said retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, MOAA president, in a statement announcing the results.

While underemployment has long been recognized as an issue for military spouses, comparatively little research has been done on the issue in that particular demographic.

More than 55 percent of respondents said they need to work, and 90 percent said they want to work. The biggest, and most obvious, impediment: Active-duty spouses are much more likely to have moved within states, across state lines and overseas compared to their veteran and nonmilitary spouse counterparts.

Researchers also compared the national unemployment rates and salaries of military spouses and civilian spouses, using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

In 2012, the latest year for which data was available, the unemployment rate for military spouses ages 18 to 24 was 30 percent — three times the rate of their civilian counterparts.

Other findings:

■ Fifty-five percent of spouses said it was difficult to find their current or most recent job.

■ Twenty-nine percent have been denied unemployment benefits in the last year.

■ Twenty-eight percent said they weren’t working because they couldn’t find work that matched their skills and/or education level.

■ Half of spouses said their career field requires some sort of licensing or certification; 73 percent said they must get new licensing or certification after a permanent change-of-station move; and 51 percent had experienced problems or delays in that process. The average cost to renew state licensing or certification was $223.03.

■ Two-thirds completed their education while their service member was on active duty, while 64 percent completed their education through distance learning.

Because the percentage of those who use distance learning is so high, “we want to ensure that we’re providing spouses and service members the right tools to make decisions” about where they will go to school and get the best educational quality for their goals, said Karen Golden of MOAA.

“Through this project and our partnership with MOAA, we hope that this work will inform the national discussion, helping to create new programs, policies and initiatives that provide resources which will help this community to overcome challenges they face in the pursuit of economic empowerment,” said Rosalinda Maury, director of research for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

“The results of this study demonstrate that these challenges are significant and pervasive.”

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