This week, during a ceremony at the White House, I had the opportunity to stand beside President Trump as he signed an executive order enhancing employment opportunities for military spouses seeking federal employment.
As a working military spouse and advocate for employment opportunities for all military spouses, I appreciate the administration’s recognition of the immeasurable value military spouses bring to the workforce.
This order is a win, not only for military spouses, but for the federal government. Military spouses bring an unparalleled level of resilience, adaptability, diversity, flexibility, and grit to any organization.
Despite these highly-sought characteristics, despite the fact that military spouses are more likely than average working-age Americans to have a bachelor’s degree, despite the 15% of military spouses who have earned postgraduate degrees, there are simply too many military spouses who find themselves unable to secure employment. Military spouses are unemployed at four times the national unemployment rate. Even more of these spouses are underemployed — working in part time or seasonal jobs while seeking a full-time role, accepting positions that require less skill or responsibility than previous roles, or being hired into jobs those that don’t fully utilize their education or experience.
In a booming economy, today’s military spouses still live in recession.
While more than half of the country is living in dual income households, too many military families struggle to get by on a single paycheck. Nearly half of all military spouses describe finding employment and managing careers as the single greatest source of stress for their family. And studies tell us that military spouse employment is a major factor for military families as they decide whether service members stay in the military.
Having a job shouldn’t be considered a luxury for a military spouse. That mentality is bad for military families, bad for American employers, and bad for our national security.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen some of America’s largest employers pilot programs and develop resources and opportunities to pave new paths to meaningful employment for military spouses. This week, the administration took a much-needed step forward to enhance opportunities for spouses seeking careers in the public sector.
Combined, these efforts represent an incredible shift in momentum. But we need to do more if we’re going to continue move the needle on military spouse employment. From C-suites to Main Street, it’s time we work together to turn this momentum into a full paradigm shift. It matters to our economy. It matters to our national security. It matters to each of us.
Elizabeth O’Brien is the senior director of the Military Spouse Program at Hiring Our Heroes. Hiring Our Heroes is an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
In her role, O’Brien advocates for meaningful employment opportunities for the more than one million members of the military spouse community. She oversees the Military Spouse Program’s strategic and hiring events as well as the Military Spouse Employment Advisory Council, comprised of national companies committed to hiring military spouses and creating best practices in military spouse employment.
At the grassroots level, O’Brien’s program includes a nationwide network of Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones as well as the Hiring Our Heroes’ Military Spouse Professional Network, which establishes community strategies to support 50+ networking chapters for military spouses on U.S. military installations around the world.