Here are the top three conversations military spouses are having with their employers right now:
“I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go. There’s just no way we can consider allowing your role to go remote after you move.”
“We’ve chosen a more settled and reliable candidate for the promotion. You’re more than qualified and if you weren’t moving next summer this opportunity would totally be yours!”
“I’m sorry. We just can’t justify hiring someone who won’t be here in 2 years.”
These words have been ringing in the ears of military spouses for nearly five decades – that’s 48 years since service members and veterans became a protected work class.
Efforts to protect members of the armed services from workplace disadvantages have made strides over the years, but efforts to protect military spouses have never made it past the senate or house floor.
And, perhaps it is in the selfless nature of the military spouse to put their service member’s career first and let their own take a back seat.
However, I am here to say that being married to the military is not a career and we must advocate for the women and men who sacrifice so much to support those who are serving our country.
Asking for protection of career continuity is not reaching and is nothing to be shy about. For perspective, let’s look at how our veterans are currently supported.
In 1974, Congress passed an act to help protect returning service members, who at the time faced major disadvantages due to American discourse regarding the Vietnam War. This act protected service members from employment discrimination.
Protections advanced in 1994 with a new act requiring employers to put individuals back to work in their civilian jobs after military service, and at the same seniority, status and pay the employee would have achieved if not for the military obligation.
With the veteran unemployment rate sitting at nearly 10 percent, the most recent protection measure came in the form of affirmative action. In 2014, new rules went into effect requiring federal government contractors and subcontractors to hire and promote a number of veterans commensurate with the national veteran population, or 7.2 percent at the time.
In the years since, the veteran unemployment rate has improved to about 4 percent, despite the global pandemic. These numbers are but a fraction of the military spouse unemployment rate, which for the past decade has stubbornly sat at 24 percent, a number expected to rise due to the pandemic.
In no way does this opinion piece insinuate that military spouses directly work for the government or see combat. It is not the intent of this conversation to make equal comparison to the service member. However, it is my intent to help our government not turn a blind eye to the sacrifices the spouse makes that in a traditional civilian lifestyle they would not encounter. This piece will specifically focus on career continuity, earning potential, and economic impact a military spouse should make.
First, after completing service, veterans can reenter the civilian workforce at the same seniority and salary as if they had never left. This is a golden asset for vets, but a similar piece of legislation is still needed to protect military spouses.
Military spouses are often let go or are provided no option other than resignation when PCS orders arrive. Sadly, they find themselves stuck unemployed or in a perpetual entry level loop due to the lack of opportunity to build seniority and reputation with an employer. This decreases the amount a military spouse could earn in their career 15% each year in an entry level role or out of work completely.
A military spouse who was making $60,000 annually before they had to quit their job due to military related circumstances, loses $9,000 in earning potential each year they are out of work.
The issue of unemployment and resume gaps is immeasurably compounded for spouses that tragically and unexpectedly find themselves at Gold Star status and suddenly are expected to re-enter the workforce as a sole provider.
It is the reality of circumstances like this that make a spouse second guess military service. Furthermore, the leading cause of early service member separation from the military is often contributed to the happiness of the spouse and quality of life. Not to mention the effects it has on military marriages.
So, are you starting to see how dangerous the resume gap is to the spouse and the military?
And for military spouses who can maintain employment the circumstances aren’t much better. These spouses are often overlooked for promotions because the employer is concerned about longevity with the company.
Nearly 67% of military spouses report being underemployed, according to the latest Military Family Lifestyle Survey from Blue Star Families I‘m talking Starbucks baristas and dog walkers with master’s degrees and PhDs. That is what underemployment looks like, and your squadron’s spouse club is 67% full of it.
So, I probe further… why aren’t we doing more to support career progression for our spouses?
We need employers to see the potential and the possibilities. That’s why VirtForce supports incentivizing companies for hiring military spouses with tax credits. Currently, employers can receive up to $9,600 in tax credits for hiring veterans. Again, why are military spouses excluded?
We stand to benefit so much by correcting this oversight.
If military spouses were provisioned protections, career happiness could increase directly impacting their satisfaction with military life. This chain reaction could increase national security in the form of longer and more satisfying military careers for their service member.
There are approximately 1.8 million active-duty military spouses, 24% unemployed and 67% under employed. Provided the right policy were enacted to protect these spouses from the disadvantages they face, we could send hundreds of thousands of pro-military men and women back to the workforce to further contribute to the economy and thought leadership in the United States.
There’s so much more to be said, and I could go on for days on this subject, but I only have so much space in the pages of Liberty Life, so I’ll leave you with this.
Congress and corporate America, I’m ready. The 60,000 military spouse members that make up VirtForce’s Talent Community are ready. Are you?
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