Study: 90 percent of military spouses underemployed

Whitney Haas, lead sales associate at Kadena Air Base's Gift Corner, shows an oriental antique to Cindy Scaparrotti on Jan. 30, 2014. The Kadena Gift Corner is run by the Kadena Officers Spouses Club, a private organization whose purpose is to provide scholarship opportunities for military spouses and dependents. The gift corner also provides employment opportunities.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 12, 2014

STUTTGART, Germany — A new study confirms what many military spouses know from experience: Finding gainful employment is no easy task.

The Military Officers Association of America and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University on Wednesday announced the results of a national study focused on military spouse employment, which found that 90 percent of female spouses reported being underemployed or overqualified for the positions they hold. Military spouses also earn 38 percent less than their civilian counterparts, while also being 30 percent more likely to be unemployed, the report stated.

“The results of the 2013 Military Spouse Employment Survey demonstrate a need for concerted efforts to improve the employment issues currently faced by military spouses,” said retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, MOAA president, in a news release.

Related: Stars and Stripes' Spouse Calls blog

Frequent moves were cited as a chief difficulty in finding employment.

“The increased likelihood of moving from one geographic location to another further compounds economic issues for these families,” the report stated.

The challenges include limited employment opportunities where troops are stationed, and employer perceptions about military spouses, who are rarely in one location for very long.

Although the report didn’t directly compare job prospects between spouses in the U.S. and those stationed overseas, those abroad are at a particular disadvantage because most job opportunities are generally limited to on-base positions. Language barriers and SOFA restrictions mean jobs on the economy are often out of reach.

To improve job prospects for spouses, the report recommends that the military examine ways to reduce the number of PCS moves families make during the course of a servicemember’s career.

“Any policy or recommended modification to personnel management within the Armed Forces, which reduces the frequency of PCS moves, will benefit the female spouses with respect to career advancement/promotion, increased earnings potential, and improved job/occupation opportunities,” the report recommended.

Other recommendations included more access to child care and flexible work schedules.

Though military spouses face higher rates of unemployment, it is not because of a lack of desire to work, the study found. More than 55 percent of respondents indicated they “need” to work while 90 percent stated they “want” to work.

Although they did better than peers with lower levels of education, even spouses with advanced degrees experience high levels of unemployment. For example, those holding doctorates were unemployed at a rate of 15.56 percent. Unemployment rates for spouses with only associates degrees were 46.53 percent.

Spouses between 18 and 24 were unemployed at a rate of 30 percent, higher than all other age groups and three times higher than their civilian counterparts, according to the report.

“The results of this study demonstrate that these challenges are significant and pervasive,” said IVMF Director of Research, Rosalinda Maury, in a news release.

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Lucia M. Eisenhower, a military spouse, reads along during a presentation for the Career Prep Rally at the Career Resources Training Center at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Dec. 2, 2013.