Military Spouse Employment

Congress has constitutional authority over the armed forces, including the power to “to raise and support Armies,” “to provide and maintain a Navy,” and “to make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” Congress is thus responsible for legislating military pay and benefits, establishing personnel policies, and overseeing the implementation of Department of Defense (DOD) family programs.

Military servicemembers and their families live and work in every state in the union, as well as in foreign nations, and military spouses and spouse advocacy groups make up a large and vocal constituency. Servicemembers are often subject to change-of-station moves between U.S. states or overseas, which often means uprooting family members from their jobs, schools, and professional and social networks. In addition, servicemembers may be called on for deployments, travel, and atypical work schedules that can complicate spouses’ ability to maintain full employment – particularly for those with children at home.

Studies have found that while military spouses have similar or higher labor participation rates to civilian counterparts, they tend to have higher unemployment and underemployment than their non-military-connected counterparts. They also have challenges qualifying for job-related benefits like career development opportunities and vesting of employer contributions to retirement funds. This can lead to lower lifetime earnings, and inhibit wealth accrual for the family. From the federal government’s perspective, higher employment rates among military spouses can have a positive economic impact and contribute to economic growth. When military spouses are able to build a successful career ,it can also bolster a family’s financial stability during the time when a servicemember transitions out of the military into civilian employment.

Spouses’ inability to find employment or job dissatisfaction can also increase family and relationship stress, lower overall satisfaction with the military, and affect retention decisions. In recognition that the transient and unpredictable nature of a career in military service can impose unique burdens on military spouses, Congress has authorized several initiatives to provide support for military spouse education, employment, and career development. These initiatives fall into three broad categories: (1) direct monetary or in-kind support from DOD (e.g., scholarships, license fee reimbursement, career counseling); (2)outreach and partnerships with states and private businesses; and (3) federal government hiring flexibilities. Recent evaluations of congressionally authorized employment programs have shown some positive outcomes, including higher workforce participation by military spouses. There are also several proposals in the 116thCongress that would enhance existing programs or create new authorities to incentivize military spouse hiring. Purchase this Volume