Hiring Our Heroes’ fifth annual Military Spouse Employment Summit, presented by USAA, celebrated the progress that has been made in military spouse employment during the last 10 years and pointed to actions that need to be taken to reduce the unemployment rate.
“Bringing this story to our nation’s consciousness is just the first step. To make meaningful change for our military families we must collectively commit to action. One sector or group can’t do it alone. It will take the collective impact of the legislative, corporate, government, and nonprofit partnerships to ensure the military spouse lifestyle is no longer a barrier to career success,” said Tony Wells, chief brand officer for USAA.
This year’s summit was especially relevant in relation to the nation’s economic recovery following the global pandemic. The military spouse unemployment rate has jumped to 38%, but 56% of unemployed military spouses plan to return to the workforce within the next five months.
Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole told the more than 2,000 summit viewers that now is the time to reengage the business community.
“Military spouses, more so than other populations in this country, suffered the economic challenges caused by COVID-19,” he said. “But as we turn a corner on the pandemic, let’s leverage what we learned about remote work opportunities to empower military spouses as they search for those meaningful career opportunities.”
Even before COVID-19, the military spouse unemployment rate “remained stubbornly in the same place” hovering between 24% and 30% for the last decade, said Laura Schmiegel, Head of Military and Veteran Affairs at Booz Allen Hamilton.
One solution introduced during this year’s summit was the Jobs and Childcare for Military Families Act of 2021. This federal legislation would expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to include hiring qualified military spouses. Employers could claim a tax credit equal to a portion of the wages paid to the military spouse. Veterans already qualify as a targeted hiring population under the WOTC.
Additionally, the Jobs and Childcare for Military Families Act of 2021 would expand the federal Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) program as an employee benefit to uniformed service members. Common among civilian employers’ benefit packages, a flexible spending account is a pre-tax benefit that allows the employee to designate a certain amount of their annual salary for childcare or medical expenses. Currently, military families are not eligible for FSAFEDS, the flexible spending account program offered to federal civilian personnel.
“We need to clarify that those pretax dollars in the flexible spending accounts can be used for childcare. It will give our military spouses one more economical tool to have money set aside for childcare,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) during a panel with U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and moderated by Brianna Keilar, military spouse, anchor of “CNN New Day,” and author of “Home Front.”
Wilson explained how bipartisan legislation that benefits military spouse employment can be incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act rather than a piece of standalone legislation.
“There are a lot of opportunities and we’ll all be working together,” he said.
Additional event highlights included the announcement of the Military Spouse Employment Research Collective (MSERC), which brings together the foremost military spouse employment research organizations and public and private sector stakeholders to build a foundation for how to collectively approach military spouse employment research. See the collective’s conceptual framework here.
A panel of industry experts also discussed Hiring Our Heroes’ highly successful Military Spouse Fellowship Program and the use of these fellowships or “returnships” being a key solution to the 2.3 million women that have left the labor force since February 2020. The military spouse population is 92% female.
Hiring Our Heroes’ new military spouse hiring initiative, Discover The Talent, was also launched at the summit. This initiative empowers businesses of all sizes to support military spouse employment in their communities by working to target them for job opportunities then report and share their success.
During the 2021 Military Spouse Employment Summit, Hiring Our Heroes recognized and celebrated the many accomplishments of volunteers, community and business leaders, and military spouses who work tirelessly to increase economic opportunities for a deserving population.
2021 Military Spouse Impact Award Honorees
- Bonnie Amos Impact Award for Lifetime Achievement presented by Booz Allen Hamilton: Suzie Schwartz, the spouse of retired Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz.
- Military Spouse Volunteer Impact Award presented by Toyota: Samantha Domingo.
- Community Leader Impact Award presented by Deloitte: Tampa, Florida.
- Military Spouse Entrepreneur Impact Award presented by JP Morgan Chase: Jasmine Tiara, a Navy spouse and owner of the Black Wallet.