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News / Northwest

Military spouses struggle to find jobs

Murray hears about difficulties during roundtable event

By Debbie Cockrell, The News Tribune
Published: February 28, 2018, 8:48pm

When you can’t even use your real address for a resume, you have a problem.

That was just one of the takeaways from a recent roundtable for military spouses held mid-February in Lakewood with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in attendance.

Recent data and anecdotes given at the roundtable highlight the challenges of keeping dual-income families functioning when connected to the military.

According to a report published last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, the military spouse unemployment rate remains four times the current rate for all adult women and three times higher than the rate for women ages 20-25.

Military spouses often face taking jobs that don’t match their education or training because of frequent moves or managing a household while their spouse is deployed.

The spouses also often wind up taking part-time or seasonal work when they preferred full-time or permanent work. Or, they might give up looking for work altogether when the available jobs don’t pay enough to cover child care.

Those with degrees were hit with the biggest challenge for employment, according to the Hiring Our Heroes report, facing the highest rate of unemployment and most difficulty finding meaningful work given the frequency of moves and relocations to areas not close to urban centers.

At Murray’s roundtable, military spouses shared the barriers to employment they had encountered.

Perhaps the most jarring example offered at the session: Being advised to change addresses and resumes to not reveal they live on post when sending in applications.

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One told of simply changing “Fort Lewis” in her return address to “Lakewood” and receiving more interest from potential employers with just that change alone.

“No military family should have to choose between financial security and serving their country,” Murray told attendees. “We can’t afford to lose good people who want to serve because their spouse can’t find work.”

Other issues brought up by those at the roundtable:

• Not knowing what was available to them in employment placement assistance.

• Seeing a job opening pulled after it was discovered a top applicant was a military spouse.

• Hearing that they may not really need work if they already were married to a high-ranking military official.

One of the spouses, Maggie Connors, a financial adviser, described at the roundtable of repeatedly hearing in past interviews for jobs in the banking industry: “How long are you going to be here? When are you leaving?”

When she would give a time frame to the potential employer, “All of a sudden I was underqualified for the job,” she said. “And it happened again and again and again.”

The Lakewood roundtable included representatives from Joint Base Lewis-McChord Personnel and Family Readiness Center, WorkForce Central, Pacific Mountain Workforce Development and Camo2Commerce — a program offered through a partnership between WorkForce Central and Pacific Mountain.

Raul Armendariz, a spouse who attended the Lakewood forum, was happy for the chance to meet with Murray and hoped real changes would result.

“Oftentimes, military spouses are lumped into transitioning veteran programs,” he said. “Though this does provide some help in the short term, it does not address the long-term issues of unemployment and underemployment we military spouses deal with over the course of our career.

“I’d like to see companies welcoming military spouses as an added value to the company, just as they do for veterans, and not a risk.”

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