A report from the White House, scheduled to be released this morning, says that unemployment among military spouses remains at 22 percent, leading 39 percent of military families to discuss leaving active-duty military service. Generated by first lady Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative, the report suggests that unemployment can be reduced by increasing access to childcare and making the federal government an “employer of choice” for military spouses.
“Most spouses need or want to work, and they are faced with barriers that don’t allow them to do that. For military spouses, the rate of unemployment has been statistically unchanged for ten years,” Rory Brosius, Executive Director of Joining Forces, herself a military spouse, told Military Times.
Brosius suggests that the lack of economic opportunity for spouses significantly impacts service member retention, as the report highlights that half of the active-duty force and 44 percent of the National Guard and Reserves are married. Additionally, the report details how during the COVID-19 pandemic, 34 percent of military spouses reported losing their jobs, straining military families even further.
“We talk all the time about military family readiness being a national security imperative, and I think especially as we talk about readiness and retention, we absolutely have to address the quality of life for military families,” Brosius said.
To tackle issues such as this, Brosius says that Joining Forces is expanding the use of surveys and data collected from across the federal government. Ideally, according to the report, this data collection and sharing will be ongoing and reviewed at regular intervals so that policies can be either adjusted or formed in the best interest of service members.
“As we talk with our agency colleagues, we realize that there’s sometimes a gap in the types of data that we gather on military families as compared to their nonmilitary peers,” Brosius said. ”Being able to paint a picture of the overall similarities and differences allows us to think about where solutions in different populations might scale or apply to others.”
An example of a solution identified by Joining Forces is making the federal government an “employer of choice” for military spouses. According to Brosius, military installations often play host to a variety of federal agencies. So, Joining Forces is placing a heavy emphasis on ensuring that spouses know that these jobs are available while also directly pairing off job-seekers with employment opportunities within the federal government.
“One of the most exciting commitments in the report that we’re publishing is that all of the federal executive agencies have joined the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, and so that’s really going to make it easier for them. We’ll make it easier for hiring managers to find military spouse talent,” Brosius said.
Not only will military spouses be identified and assisted through the hiring process, but the program will pair them with jobs that fit their lifestyle, particularly remote work Brosius said.
According to the report, the Defense Department will launch and provide free subscriptions to a job search website dedicated to military spouses looking specifically for remote work opportunities. Additionally, a new “concierge” service will pair spouses with openings at federal agencies with those looking for a job. The hope is that these spouses will find employment to take with them if the family is transferred to another duty station, leading to bolstered retention.
Going hand in hand with Joining Forces’ emphasis on employment, according to Brosius, is the issue of child care. Without it, as many have discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic, working is still a challenge.
“You can’t really have a conversation with many military spouses about employment without talking about high-quality childcare. There are waiting lists making it hard for families to access [care], so it’s an area where we’re really focusing on,” Brosius told Military Times.
To help with childcare, DoD, in conjunction with Joining Forces, is piloting a new program directed at addressing the issue. The “In-Home Child Care Provider Assistance Program” is directed at military families who have decided that in-home childcare best suits their needs.
While the pilot will run for five years, the first year will target five locations with the most significant demand. Those locations include Hawaii, San Diego, Norfolk, San Antonio, and the National Capital Region. The fiscal 2022 DoD budget request includes $5 million for the program. The amount of monetary assistance provided to service members will vary based on the family’s total income requesting assistance and the in-home rate of the childcare provider.
Brosius hopes that today’s Joining Forces report proposals are the first of many, and the initiative remains no matter what party the next president is from. Joining Forces was first established in 2011 by the Obama administration, discontinued by the Trump administration, and then reconstituted in May 2021.
“We hope that each [future] administration takes up this work as a priority. This is not a partisan issue,” Brosius concluded. “This is about our military families, our national security. Being able to set a battle rhythm for this work and to prioritize it, no matter who sits in the White House is incredibly important to us.”
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.