Military Spouses: Career Problems and Solutions

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Military Spouse reacts to hearing that her family will have to move once again due to a permanent change of station.
Written by Jennifer Mayberry
Graphic Design by Krystn Stockbridge

Military Spouses and the Impact of Relocation

What if you suddenly had to leave your home, your job and your social network behind and move someplace new? So you pack up and move without much notice. Once you’re in the new place, you try to find a job. Instead of a job, however, you find employers who are reluctant to hire you. They’re afraid that if they hire you, you might move again. What if you then have to go through the same process in another couple of years, and again a couple of years after that? Military spouses often have to do just that.

Relocation is a fact of life for military families but it can have a significant effect on work life and career trajectories. On average, military families move as often as every two to three years. For military spouses, frequent relocations can present employment hurdles that often result in short or long-term periods of unemployment.

Unemployment and Underemployment

Military spouses have significantly higher rates of unemployment than the general population. In fact, in 2017, The US Chamber of Congress put the unemployment rate for military spouses at 16%. That’s a drop from 23% in 2015, but it’s still four times higher than the national average.

Unemployment rates don’t give us the whole picture, either. Military spouses also have higher rates of part-time employment than the general population. The U.S. Chamber of Congress found that 31%  were employed part-time as opposed to only 19% of the general population.

The Costs

Unemployment and underemployment carry a cost. A report prepared for the White House by the Council of Economic Advisers estimates that military spouses make $12,374 less per year on average than their civilian counterparts. Over a twenty- year period, that adds up to just under $190,000 in lost income. The Chamber of Congress Study found that a lack of equal job opportunities for both spouses was one of the major factors that families considered when the deciding if they should leave the military.

Barriers to Finding Employment

Isolated Location

Bases are often located in remote areas far major urban centers; places where job opportunities are limited. As Super Julie Braun, founder and CEO of SuperInterns and Super Purposes Trademark explains,

“You’re at Fort Bragg and maybe there’s a Walmart. Maybe there’s a deli. Maybe there are a few gas stations. And maybe you’re a doctor. Maybe you have a Ph.D. Where are you going to work?”

Not every job can be done in every place. As a result, military spouses may end up taking jobs that are available rather than suitable. Of the sample population of military spouses surveyed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 70% felt that their skills and education were underutilized. The survey found that 69% of working spouses wound up in positions that required no experience and that 71% reported that they had more education than was required. The survey found that unemployment rates went up in proportion to education levels. In other words, the more specialized and higher the level of education required for a given career, the more likely a military spouse with those qualifications is to be unemployed because of a permanent change in station.


Unfortunately, despite the sacrifices that they make to accompany their husbands and wives in service, military spouses often encounter bias from would-be employers. The main basis of this prejudice is the assumption that the employee is not worth investing in because of their spouse’s job. Seems unfair, right?

Given that the lives of military spouses are linked to their family member’s service, shouldn’t someone give them a break instead of ignoring their sacrifices? In recent years, government officials and agencies, the business world, and organizations that serve military families have attempted to expand access to opportunities for this often overlooked group of American workers.

Addressing Unique Career Obstacles

Government Initiatives

In 2018, President Trump signed an executive order that makes it easier for military spouses to attain government jobs. Joining Forces, a program started during the previous administration by former First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden has worked to get states to simplify licensing procedures. Cutting through licensing red tape that occurs during stateside moves is significant because 35% of military spouses work in professions that require licensing.

Programs for Spouses

Here are some of the numerous organizations that provide career resources for Military Spouses.

The Military Spouse Employment Partnership

MSEP partners with employers who have made a commitment to hire military spouses. It provides a job search portal that allows job seekers to connect with the MSEP partner companies.  As of today, the site says that it has 341,708 job listings for military spouses. Partner companies help military spouses by providing them with flexible or remote jobs. MSEP partners also offer mentoring, training, and resource groups. Additionally, the website provides links to educational programs and licensing information.

The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network

The MSCCN provides military spouses with information, career advice, and resources. Through their Recruiter Connect program, the MSCCN matches job seekers with the right opportunities for them.

VirtForce; the Virtually Unstoppable Workforce

VirtForce is an online community that allows military spouses to connect and network with each other during their search for meaningful virtual work. Members offer support to one another by sharing resources, vetted job opportunities, and their personal experiences working for virtual companies. VirtForce also offers career development services and learning opportunities to its members.

The Milspro Project

The Milspro Project is a program for military spouses who want to become entrepreneurs. The project allows participants to enroll in courses taught by military spouse peers who are already entrepreneurs. Participants get to network and attend conferences. Here is a link to follow the program on their Facebook Page.


LinkedIn offers assistance to various groups of job seekers through its LinkedIn for Good Program. For those who have just had to move for an assignment, LinkedIn offers a year of their Premium Service. Participants also get access to LinkedIn courses and an online community designed specifically for military spouses.

Military Friendly Employer Lists

In addition to information found on spouse geared career databases, there are various lists out there of employers who specifically want to work with military spouses.

Indeed Military offers job listings that prioritize military spouses and veterans. In fact, many of the ads say, “Military Spouses Preferred.”

In conclusion, a lifestyle of frequent moves provides unique career challenges for military spouses. The good news is that there are numerous programs and resources that match job seekers from this valuable talent pool with opportunities that fit their needs and qualifications. Please check back this month for more articles on topics that we hope will be relevant to military spouses. For more on career resources, please check out this helpful article on LinkedIn by Gabby Lobianco.