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Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole speaks with the White House Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole speaks with the White House Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole speaks with the White House Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole speaks with the White House Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

Jill Biden, former second lady of the United States, speaks during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Jill Biden, former second lady of the United States, speaks during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses attendees of a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses attendees of a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

White House Deputy Director and Special Advisor to the President Jennifer Korn speaks during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Looking on is Deloitte Principal of Federal Strategy and Operations Jon Baba.

White House Deputy Director and Special Advisor to the President Jennifer Korn speaks during a military spouse employment summit held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Looking on is Deloitte Principal of Federal Strategy and Operations Jon Baba. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has recently touted job numbers among African Americans, veterans and women. Now his administration is turning its attention toward a population that lags far behind in employment: military spouses.

The unemployment rate for military spouses is about 16 percent – quadruple the overall unemployment rate in the U.S., according to estimates from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Experts cite challenges such as frequent moves, often with little notice, as well as barriers created by differences in professional licensing requirements state to state.

White House officials Jennifer Korn and Kellyanne Conway promised Thursday the administration was focused on the problem.

“You have some people in the White House who really care and are championing this issue,” said Korn, a special assistant to Trump.

Korn and Conway spoke Thursday at a summit held by Hiring Our Heroes, supported by the Chamber of Commerce, to rally the private sector and federal government to hire more military spouses.

In May, Trump signed an executive order to encourage federal agencies to hire more military spouses. The order pushes agencies to put to use a federal law that gives preference to military spouses for government jobs.

Conway acknowledged the order was merely a first step aimed at raising awareness of the issue. In order to push the private sector to hire more military spouses, the federal government first needed to show it would do the same, Korn said.

“We couldn’t ask the private sector to do something if the federal government didn’t,” she said. “That’s why we have this executive order. We want to lead by example.”

Len Litton, part of the White House National Security Council, said the Trump administration expected the number of military spouses working in the federal government to increase once the order was fully implemented. The order requires agencies to report the number of spouses they hire starting in fiscal 2019.

“We believe it will increase the opportunities for military spouses,” Litton said.

Following the summit, attendees walked across the street to the White House, where the Department of Labor unveiled a new website intended to be a resource for military spouses who are moving stations and seeking employment.

The site includes a U.S. map that shows how professional licenses can transfer to different states, based on state laws. According to a report released last month from Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, 35 percent of military spouses in the labor market work in occupations that require a license or certification – meaning they must navigate varying licensing laws when they move across state lines.

Labor officials lauded the site as a resource that could cut down spouses’ research time from hours to minutes.

“This site is going to make life so much easier for military spouses who are getting transferred,” said Dan Greenberg, a senior policy advisor at the Department of Labor.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.
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