Military spouses are experiencing an unwavering unemployment rate that has recently escalated to 30%, making it one of the highest unemployed demographics in the country and Washington state. Lack of childcare and employer bias are the top issues among many military spouses in a report released by the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs and Employment Security. Mike Schindler, Navy veteran and chief executive officer of Operation Military Family, says more employers must step into the 21st century to provide solutions to this soaring rate.
The report is the result of insights gathered during a statewide tour by Veterans Affairs of Washington’s seven military bases. The tour also provided first-hand accounts that a spouse’s employment satisfaction directly impacts a service member’s decision to stay in the military.
“The fact that we risk losing service members due to the lack of opportunity for their spouses makes this an issue for everyone. These spouses—many of whom are highly educated and eager to find good paying jobs—are sacrificing for their country alongside their partners. They deserve our attention,” says Schindler.
Despite the national unemployment rate reaching its lowest rate in 54 years, military spouses still face significant barriers to success in their careers. Active-duty spouses in Washington state have a 24% unemployment rate. Further, 56% of military spouses report being underemployed, and military spouses earn 27% less on average than their non-military spouse peers.
Kaelin Peterson, who is a military spouse, says every military spouse she knows has struggled with unemployment or under employment. Many military spouses aren't living in the same location as their military service member to hold onto their jobs in another state.
“I have a friend who chose to stay in a location because she found a job she loved, and her spouse’s next duty station was only three hours away,” she says. “Most situations I have seen, the couple stays together. I am a bit older, though, and so are my friends.
Peterson works as a lead evaluator for Western Governors University (WGU) and says she would not have been able to maintain a good job and advance her career if she was not able to work remotely.
“The flexibility and support I have received have allowed me as a military spouse to maintain a job and advance my career over nearly six years of marriage and three moves, including a move to Okinawa, Japan,” she says. “I began at WGU over 11 years ago and would not have pursued dating my husband if I thought I would not be able to continue my own career.”
Since the pandemic, more companies transitioned into a remote model, which can better accommodate military spouses who often must move for reassignments.
“There are some great companies out there that are working more with military spouses, but more employers need to follow and create better-paying jobs,” says Schindler, who lives in Edmonds. “I know several people right now who are highly educated and working as administrative assistants. They aren’t making a high enough wage to get by, much less pay for childcare.”
As the founder of Operation Military Family for over a decade, Schindler says the heart of their mission is to keep the family core strong.
“Financial strain is one of the major issues that break up families,” he says. “The challenge is that in our military, you can be called up and reassigned on a moment’s notice. Then that just causes more issues.”
With more than 90% of military spouses being women, Schindler says companies are especially missing out on the group he calls “the superhighway.”
“Men tend to think in boxes, whereas women are so innovative and can juggle so much,” he says. “Every time I see stories where companies say we can't find good talent, I'm like, you're not looking in the right places.”
Schindler says it’s important that companies understand that the people they hire are the secret to helping them innovate and become more creative.
“Things have changed so much from five years ago and certainly how our parents worked over 30 years ago. I think a lot of company leaders are still walking backwards trying to solve 21st century problems with 20th century thinking,” he says. “The key is for them to ask, ‘What is the best talent out there? What is an underserved talent pool that we can tap?’ It’s the military and veteran families.”
For the 12th consecutive year, WGU has been named a Military Friendly® School. For 2022-2023, WGU is also ranked as the #1 online school by Military Friendly®. In honor of Military Appreciation Month, WGU is offering the Military Appreciation Scholarship and the Military Spouse Scholarship through June 30th.
By Courtney Dunham, Communications Manager for WGU Northwest Region. For media or other inquiries, contact Courtney at 206.388.8926 or Courtney.firstname.lastname@example.org