Lawmakers working to help military spouses find employment

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working to address an often-overlooked problem that's hurting our military community: 38 percent of military spouses are underemployed, compared with about eight percent in the economy as a whole. About 12 percent are unemployed, nearly three times the national rate. It can cause huge financial hardships for military families.

Lakesha Cole is a mother and small business owner, whose husband has served all over the world in the Marines.

"We've relocated six times, we've had about 14 addresses in the midst of six moves," Cole told CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.

Erin Ward is a real estate agent whose spent more than two decades on the move as an Army wife. She said they've moved 19 times in the past 24 years.

While their husbands served our country, these women made sacrifices of their own – especially in their careers – where frequent moves meant frequent job changes.

"I waited tables at Red Lobster. I worked at daycare centers. I've worked in government contracting," Cole said.

"I've done everything from sell insurance to work in radio," Ward said. "So if you were to look at my resume and see that I've had, you know, 25 different jobs, that doesn't look very good, right? Like, who wants to hire that person that's not gonna stick around?"

Both women said employers have asked whether they are military spouses and how long they are going to be around.

"I had someone say, 'Well, if someone was to look at your resume they would assume that you're unstable,'" Cole said.

For professionals who require state licenses, uprooting your career can be difficult, if not impossible.

"Now I've gotta put my business on hold because it's gonna take me six months to get my license 'cause I'm, you know, moving from Texas to Florida and Florida, you know, may not recognize Texas' licenses," Ward said.

It happens to attorneys and teachers, they said, which all contributes to this reality: in a recent survey from Blue Star Families, 77 percent said being a military spouse had negatively affected their careers, 52 percent of the spouses in the survey said they bring in no income, and nearly half the families had less than $5,000 saved.

After years of frustration, both Cole and Ward took matters into their own hands, starting their own businesses.

"I don't know what I would have done had I not chosen entrepreneurship as my career path. I'd probably still be stressed out," Cole said. "Somewhere rolled up in a ball, in the corner somewhere."

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine represents more military families than nearly any other senator. He said he felt "sadness that I hadn't thought of it before" when he heard some of the stories from military spouses.

"The veterans' unemployment rate came down because there was a patriotic desire to -- these people sacrificed, we should figure a way that we can help them. We have to create the same patriotic mentality about these military spouses," Kaine said.

There are signs that change is coming. At the state level, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts recently made it easier for teachers who are military spouses to find employment. Outside groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce host career fairs targeted at military spouses. Kaine is also pushing bipartisan legislation at the national level, arguing that addressing the problem will benefit the military in the long run.

"I have a kid in the military and, you know, the brass always tells you that it's the soldier or the Marine that makes the decision to come in but usually, the re-enlistment decision is made by an entire family," Kaine said.

"We are the backbone of the military," Ward said. "And I think if we had more people standing up behind us and saying, 'We believe in you and we're gonna put the money behind it.'"

They both said it's not enough to talk the talk. They want to see people walk the walk.

"We should try to fix it because it is the right thing to do," Cole said, adding, "I like to say, we're the heroes on the home front, you know? We're home keeping the kids together, we're keeping-- we're the accountant. We're the housekeeper, you know… We're all of these professions on a daily basis just so that our spouses can go to work… and serve the country."

Ward and Cole told us that the problem has gotten so bad that more couples are living apart so the spouse can work. Kaine and his colleagues hope Congress can pass a law later this spring to help fix the problem.