Military spouses network with prospective employers at the MilSpo Career Expo, Sept. 15, 2022, at Fort Bragg.

Military spouses network with prospective employers at the MilSpo Career Expo, Sept. 15, 2022, at Fort Bragg. (Audra Satterlee/U.S. Army)

Military spouses frequently move to support their spouse's career of service. Unfortunately, the move interrupts their family life, including their employment status, and causes financial strain. The lengthy federal application process exacerbates the problem. Even with the government's entitlement of Priority Placement, there's no guarantee the process will be more expedient because incoming spouses compete for the same job as spouses who have been there for years.

The Military Spouse Employment Act of 2018 modifies federal hiring authority to speed up the federal hiring process for job candidates who are military spouses. However, the implementation could be more widespread and requires fundamental cultural change and coordination from the Office of Personnel Management, the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center, and local hiring managers. The requirement will significantly help military spouses in OCONUS locations because the jobs available are primarily federal positions on the installation. Additionally, the delay in the hiring process causes some spouses to drop out of the labor force. For example, studies showed a drop from 63% to 57% in labor force participation among military wives between 1990 and 2010, even though there was an increase for women between ages 18-55 in the U.S. during the same period (Whitby & Compton, 2018).

"Hosek and MacDermid Wadsworth (2013) find that both civilian husbands and wives of military personnel are more likely to be unemployed than similar married individuals whose spouse is not in the military." The issue is not just with unemployment but also underemployment. Keeling et al. (2020) noted that the underemployment rate is higher for military spouses because they often accept jobs for which they are overqualified or take a pay cut and a demotion in pay grade to get employment. They emphasized that some disadvantages for military spouses result from a series of structural challenges such as frequent relocation and lack of accumulative job experience resulting in spouses accepting part-time or volunteer positions. Another disadvantage is the lower return on advanced degrees. "Army and Navy spouses earn a lower return on a Bachelor's degree than their civilian peers, and all military spouses earn a lower return on a graduate degree than civilians" (Harrell, Lim, Castaneda, & Golinelli, 2004).

The average duty station assignment is 24 months. Spouses often quit their jobs weeks before the move in preparation for the new duty station. Finding employment at the new duty station can take months, sometimes years. Little and Hisnanick (2007) find that military wives earn 52% less than nonmilitary wives. The wage gap is even higher for military spouses in OCONUS locations due to the limited number of available positions, so they are likely to accept part-time employment. The opportunities for jobs in the host nation's economy are challenging as there may be language barriers, status of forces agreement issues, and high taxes on income earned in the local economy.

Additionally, resumes must adhere to the federal resume standards, which are several pages more than the standard two-page resume for most jobs. After the job announcement closes, it can take several weeks and even months before there is a response, then suddenly they receive responses such as "qualified but not referred to the hiring manager" or "qualified and referred to the hiring manager," then there is no more communication for the job announcement. These statuses can take six months or more to update.

Those who receive a request for an interview also face more waiting to find out if there is a job offer. Then, those selected endure another delay through the hiring and onboarding process, which can take several weeks if not months. During the entire process, the spouse is unemployed and is juggling relocation and transition challenges in the new environment, now exacerbated with the financial burden of moving and acclimating to a new environment, especially for overseas assignments. Wadsworth and Southwell (2011) noted that being in remote or overseas locations makes it difficult for spousal employment, and many work fewer hours than their civilian peers.

The federal job process needs updating and actions to address the systematic delays in the process. The direct-hire process will help to expedite the employment process for military spouses. Jobs are offered to civilians in the Continental United States, while qualified local military spouses may have the education requirement but may lack the job experience. In addition, spouses hired through "local hire" do not receive transportation agreements known as Living Quarters Allowance, which saves the government money and reduces the onboarding time for the selected local new hire.

Hiring military spouses improves the federal workforce, strengthens the armed forces, and reduces stress for service members and their families. Therefore, the Department of Defense and the Office of Personnel Management should implement the direct-hire process for military spouses, remove redundancies and improve hiring efficiency to reduce the time military spouses spend looking for jobs, waiting for responses, and even the onboarding after selection for a job.

Lisa Perry-Smith is a Social Work graduate student with the University of Maryland Global Campus through the Salisbury University School of Social Work.

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