Military Wives: Hit Hard in the Jobs Market

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The official unemployment rate, currently at 6.6%, tells the story of some of the millions of jobless Americans. But it doesn't tell the story of military wives struggling to find work: Their unemployment rate is more than double the national average.

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Forty-one-year-old Desiree Moore has been married to Col. Brian Moore for 20 years. In that time, the college graduate with a computer science degree has never lived in one place for longer than two years. There was Belvoir, Va.; Leavenworth, Kan.; Heidelberg, Germany; Seoul, South Korea and Augusta, Ga.; to name a few. She has had to volunteer or intern in order to secure any of her jobs, and none of them were in her field of choice.

“I am not trying to get sympathy,” says Moore. “I married into the military and I knew when my husband received orders that I would have to move. I just didn’t know how often, and I didn’t know how tough it would be to find a job.”

Moore is not alone. According to a recent survey by the Military Officers Association of America, 90% of female spouses of active duty service members, which is more than 600,000 people, are underemployed -- and one of the biggest factors contributing to their weak job prospects is the constant moving.

“I am not trying to get sympathy.... I married into the military and I knew when my husband received orders that I would have to move. I just didn’t know how often, and I didn’t know how tough it would be to find a job.”

Desiree Moore, a military spouse

“People need to continue to reenter the workforce and potential employers don’t want to hire you,” says Christine Gallagher, a 29-year-old with a masters in advertising, whose husband is a major in the Army. “A lot of people don’t want to say they are a military spouse.”

It’s true: 40% of military spouses said in the survey that they would not inform a potential employer that their husbands were in the military.

“There is a fear that a person would not be hired because of this,” explains Karen Golden, deputy director of government relations at MOAA. “I think the high volume of moving should be looked at by the military to see if it meets today’s 21st century operational requirements. It’s always good to evaluate your processes.”

Another concern, explains Gallagher, who, after moving three times, found employment at MOAA in Washington, D.C., is that a lot of spouses have professional licenses that are not valid in states other than the one in which they were issued.

“Social workers, teachers, nurses, cosmetologists, real estate brokers, they all require licenses,” says Gallagher. “States need to make more accommodations so that people don’t need to start over every time they move to a different military installation.”

The education within this group varies. According to the study, 22% have a high school diploma, GED, or less; 33% have some college credit; 12% have an associate degree; 25% have a bachelor’s degree; 7% have a Master’s degree; and 1% have a doctoral degree. MOAA, whose spouse program recently received a grant from JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), is expanding and hoping to deliver help to those who want to create or keep a career while having a mobile lifestyle, says Golden.

“These women make 38% less than their civilian counterpart,” says Golden. “That is through all age brackets -- and that’s not right. These people possess more experience and skills than they are being given credit for.”

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