Bill would help unemployed military spouses find work

Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 5:22 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Military spouse Anett Erwin knows what it’s like to quit her job and move her family across the country. She’s done it three times, moving on average every four years, when her husband is assigned a new duty station. For military spouses like her, finding a new job with each move isn’t easy. Now a new bipartisan bill in Congress could help solve the problem.

“As a military spouse your resume doesn’t look like anybody else’s. You have different careers, you have gaps, your resume looks like a map because you’ve worked everywhere,” said Erwin.

Blue Star Families, a national nonprofit, reports that 48% of active-duty families believe spouse unemployment is a top concern. Its 2022 Military Family Lifestyle Survey also found that compared to civilians, military spouses experience up to four times greater unemployment levels.

Lawmakers have taken notice. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) have introduced the Military Spouse Hiring Act. It would expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program to include military spouses. That tax credit is an incentive to employers to hire people who have employment barriers.

“Military spouses, they have to move a lot. Maybe (they) moved to a place where they don’t know anybody. They might have a job that has a credential, you know, cosmetologist, real estate agent, teacher, lawyer. And, the license doesn’t transfer automatically to a new place. An employer might look at a military spouse and say, boy, you’re perfect, but aren’t you going to have to leave in a year? I’m gonna hire somebody else,” said Sen. Kaine.

Sen. Boozman, whose father was a member of the Air Force, added “most of us are two-wage earner families now. And so, the ability to go in and as you’re transferring every two or three years to have the opportunity for your spouse to get employed is so, so very important. What we’re trying to do is give employers that hire folks like that, and these are wonderful workers the only negative thing is they’re going to be leaving in a couple of years, give them a tax break, a tax incentive to again, to hire these folks.”

Ashley Scott, with Blue Star Families, detailed the barriers that keep military spouses unemployed. She said that includes “child care and permanent changes of station,” adding that “legislators, national and state level leaders, the philanthropic community and our private partners have to unite to address this issue.” She believes the bill Sens. Kaine and Boozman have introduced is a good first step but that lawmakers can do more.

“So first, we think that creating an administrator at the state level to aid in this application process will help lift the burden of that application, both in terms of time and money for small and medium sized businesses that we really think would benefit from access to this work opportunity tax credit. And also, as I said, we’re an evidence-based, data-driven organization, and this is another great opportunity to gather data about whether or not this bill is the solution that we’re looking for and how to improve it and make it better in the long term,” she said.

Meanwhile Erwin considers herself lucky because her family was frequently stationed in metropolitan areas. She met her spouse while he was stationed in Los, Angeles, California in 2008. By 2009, he had to move. Her family now lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

“So I would assume that that that helped me trying to find jobs, but it was still very, very hard,” she said. She added at times she had to leave positions that she enjoyed only then to be offered jobs that she is overqualified for.

“Whether you like a job or not, you know, in a certain number of years, you’re just leaving it. You know, you’re leaving it. Nowadays, it’s a little bit easier because hybrids and remote work environments are kind of allowing spouses to be more engaged in their jobs for a longer period of time. However, at the time when I first started moving with my husband that was not the case,” she said. She added, spouses put their careers on the ‘back-burner’ because they tend to manage the household since the military member must report for duty.

Both Erwin and Scott add many military families bear a financial burden with every move, further emphasizing the need for military spouses to find work. Blue Star Families estimate the average military family pays $4,000 in out of pocket costs. Many costs are reimbursed, but Erwin said the reimbursement process can be lengthy.

“For example, at one time we moved into this house and our couch did not go through the door. We had to leave it on the front yard, get rid of it, and then buy a brand new couch because it just didn’t fit,” said Erwin, “... so, those are those are things that nobody talks about and kind of assumes that those are easy fixes.”