Logo featuring from left to right: Left center is a  military family, upper left “We asked, you answered, Spouses Speak”, bottom left, Stars and Stripes logo. Upper right, german shepherd, below german shepherd, airplane, below airplane is people working around a table and bottom right corner is kids in a classroom

Spouses Speak logo ()

No matter how long you have been in, the military lifestyle can be fun, exciting and adventurous, as well as difficult, challenging and even scary at times. Some things get easier over time, and some things are always tough; deployments are rarely on the top of anyone’s “must experience” list.

Stars and Stripes Europe reached out to military spouses to get their thoughts about several topics impacting military life. We received 100 responses from the spouses of six military branches, active duty and reserve, who have been dependents from just a few months to more than 20 years.

These spouses are currently stationed at locations all over the world, with 40 percent being OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.). This month we are talking about a hot topic in the military spouse community: employment.

According to the 2022 Blue Star Families Annual Survey, military spouse employment was the number one issue for active duty families, with 48 percent of their respondents making this claim. Our own survey agreed with this statement; 28 percent of spouses responded that military spouse employment and underemployment was the number one issue for military families. The Blue Star survey found that 21 percent of military spouses were unemployed, with 2/5 spouses claiming that childcare expenses were the reason they were not working.

In our Stripes survey, when asked if military life had an impact on decisions and circumstances related to work, Air Force spouse Shelby M. talked solely about childcare: “Childcare is so hard to come by here let alone to afford. I would work if I could find care for my children.” With such numbers, we wanted to ask spouses about their own experiences with employment, unemployment and underemployment.

“I currently work part-time where I am overqualified and underpaid based on my work experience,” claimed Air Force Spouse Kristen T. This quote seems like it could be the unofficial motto of military spouses. 28 percent of spouses who responded claimed that they did not work. Of the spouses who wanted to work, 15 percent stated that they have submitted over 31 job applications at their current duty location.

Chart featuring Job Applications Submitted at Current Duty Station by military spouses

Chart featuring Job Applications Submitted at Current Duty Station by military spouses ()

Navy spouse Shana C. shared how the thing that scared her the most about military life was career and education opportunities: “Military life has definitely affected my career. I am a teacher. Getting credentialed in each place we move is expensive and time-consuming. There were no jobs for me when we were first stationed in San Diego and childcare was so expensive that being a stay-at-home mom with my boys for 4 years was the best option. I was a tenured teacher in NYS and having to get certified in California was extremely frustrating, fueled by misinformation….Now that we're stationed in Japan, to work, I have to go through a whole different set of credentialing and application loopholes in order to work. This not only creates gaps in my work history but also gaps in the income my family can rely on. We must plan for deficits. My personal retirement is also not secured. I have not worked in NYS for many years therefore the state "cashed me out." And after eight years in California, depending on how long we're away or if we ever go back, I may lose future retirement there as well.” She was not alone in this way of thinking; 10 percent of spouses responded to our survey indicating that career and employment opportunities were the thing that scared them most.

Job Satisfaction

When asking about their working options and decisions, we also talked to spouses about job satisfaction.

Many spouses can find satisfaction in the work that they do. Marine Spouse Kristina B. loves the satisfaction she gets from finding a job. “I am loving being a whole person again. It’s great to be contributing to my household financially and having a focus on something outside of my home.”

However, many spouses find themselves underemployed, overeducated or out-of-field for positions they end up in because of the military life. Army Spouse Amanda F. touched on this topic: “[Military life] has impacted my work tremendously. I have a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and I am consistently underemployed due to moving every few years with the military. It is exhausting to start over in a new city every two to three years and have no contacts in that area. Also, I am the go-to parent because my spouse has a practically nonexistent work/life balance, so I have to look for a position that provides the ability to drop off and pick our children up from school and be able to be with them when they are sick.”

Air Force spouse Romain G. noted how some spouses need to work and do what they have to do. “I work as a contractor, not by choice but by necessity. I have also been on the lookout for career opportunities constantly in the past year/year and a half. But nothing has worked out, in large part because of where we are currently stationed.”

Military spouse employment is such a complicated and in-depth issue that we’ve had to break this article into two parts. Come back next week when we talk about military spouses working OCONUS and how military life can impact one’s circumstances and decisions related to working.

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of the employees of Stars and Stripes.

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