When American service members deploy both domestically and abroad, their spouses are faced with challenges of their own, including finding and retaining employment, as well as interrupting their educational and career development. The Trump administration is looking to make things a little easier for the men and women behind those who serve, holding a listening session Wednesday with a group of military spouses led by senior adviser Ivanka Trump.
“When a service member is away, their spouse assumes greatly increased responsibilities, and their commitment and dedication is just as critical in the service about this country. You must often be ready at a moment’s notice to move your families and find new employment,” Trump said to the group gathered around a conference table in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room. “We are committed to supporting you and ensuring that you have every opportunity to find success in our economy.”
A survey of military families released in June from Hiring Our Heroes, a US Chamber of Commerce foundation, found that unemployment and underemployment are major challenges for spouses of service members, of which 92% are female. The military spouse unemployment rate is 16%, four times the rate for all adult women. Among military spouses who are employed, 14% of them are working in part-time jobs and half of that part-time group wants full-time work.
Frequent moves can deeply impact a spouse’s career choice. For instance, moving six times in eight years “made it quite difficult to be a college basketball coach,” said Elizabeth O’Brien, who now is a Military Spouse Program Director at Hiring Our Heroes.
Another specific challenge military spouses disproportionately face as they move from state to state is licensing continuity, a topic the first daughter is personally focusing on.
Elizabeth Griffin, a 13-year Army spouse currently living in Maryland, is a speech language pathologist.
“It’s difficult when you’re the default parent,” Griffin said. “You find yourself having to take positions that are more flexible… I haven’t been able to take positions that are career advancing, more of, like, a job for two years. I hate to sound like that, but it’s true.”
Different licensing and continuing education requirements in each state have also made it difficult for Griffin to propel her career forward each time her family moves.
Nearly one out of three Americans needs a license to work, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta told the group. While many military spouses choose more “portable” career paths, like teaching or nursing or law, those often require state-specific licensing requirements that present barriers with each new move.
Acosta called excessive licensing “a barrier” and “unfair.” He noted that the administration is looking to enact policies that eliminate licensing requirements where possible and make state-to-state reciprocity an option.
Kim Lopez, who has 20 years in teaching experience and a master’s degree, recently moved to Utah with her husband, who is in the Air Force, and is struggling to find employment that matches her qualifications.
“I am having trouble progressing in my field, taking leadership positions, because wherever I go, I start at the bottom. With 20 years of experience, I am lucky if a school district or an employer will take 10 of those as qualified experience, so I am constantly reinventing the wheel,” Lopez said.
Some resources are already in place. Administrator Linda McMahon highlighted partnerships between her agency, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Defense for military spouses. The National Military Family Association offers networking opportunities and peer-to-peer support for professionals.
The issue hits close to home: the White House’s own Office of Public Liaison Deputy Director Jennifer Korn is the wife of a Marine.
“One of the biggest challenges is, do I leave my career or do I leave my husband?” Korn said. “At different points of my career, I have left my career. A couple times, me and my husband have lived apart, at one point three years apart while he was on back-to-back deployments. It’s very difficult if you have to choose.”
Wednesday’s event was Trump’s second public appearance during the White House’s “American Dream Week.” She led a discussion and question and answer session with McMahon and small business owners on Tuesday. She was also present for the swearing-in of new White House chief of staff John Kelly and a Cabinet meeting on Monday.