Army Works to Boost Spouse Employment Opportunities

Army Works to Boost Spouse Employment Opportunities

Panelists speak at an event on spouse employment at the AUSA annual meeting.
Photo by: Tasos Katopodis for AUSA

Military life can create challenges for soldiers and their families, but the Army is working to improve their quality of life in several areas, including supporting and increasing employment opportunities, a panel of experts said. 

“In today’s world, the norm is a two-income family, and we take that opportunity away from our military spouses because of the very transient lives that we lead—and not through anyone's fault, it's just the way that it is,” said Patricia Barron, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy and former director of Family Readiness for the Association of the U.S. Army.

Spouse unemployment, among a representative sample of Army spouses, declined from 23% in January to 19% in May, but the situation is still nuanced, Thomas Trail, a senior behavioral scientist at the Rand Corp., said during a military family forum at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2023 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The numbers were “a little bit better, but that masks a lot of churn,”  Trail said. “Even between January and May, about a quarter of Army spouses lost their jobs, and about a third of Army spouses started working when they weren’t working before. There’s about 10% who went from full-time to part-time.” 

Unemployed spouses spent about 19 weeks on average looking for work, according to a 2021 DoD survey of active-duty spouses. 

In particular, recent permanent change-of-station moves, living off-post and having children at home all increased spouses’ odds of unemployment, the survey found. 

DoD’s Military Spouse Career Accelerator pilot program is working to change that, said Elizabeth O’Brien, executive director of Hiring our Heroes. 

“The most disruptive and innovative program that we’ve been able to launch, certainly has been the recent Military Spouse Career Accelerator pilot, which we hope will someday be a program,” she said. The pilot is “in collaboration with the Department of Defense and Deloitte.” 

Since more than two-thirds of military spouses have children under 18 living at home, child care and spouse employment considerations are inextricable, Barron said. 

“You can’t separate the two. You can’t separate employment from child care if you have children, especially young children, [and] the majority of our military children are young,” she said. “We’re piloting an in-home child care fee assistance program, where the provider actually comes into your home, and you receive fee assistance for that.” 

Supporting spouse employment ensures that spouses can make an impact on their families and their community. “Just when you're getting to the point where you're proving yourself, you’ve got to move again, and you’ve got to start all over again,” Barron said. “That impacts your ability to contribute to the financial wellness of your family, and it also impacts your own … ability to contribute to … society writ large. It’s incredibly important to be able to provide those resources to our spouses.”

— Karli Goldenberg