Overcoming Military Spouse Unemployment: My New Journey
Written by Tessarose Brown
Change can bring about many challenges for a family. For military families, it’s a fact of life. Due to constant changes in location, one of the most common challenges affecting military families is the rate of military spouse unemployment. It is reported that 24% of military spouses experience unemployment, 6x the rate of their civilian counterparts, which is attributed to frequent moves and relocations.
Unfortunately, after our first Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move, I was counted among that 24%. For over a year, I struggled with finding childcare, handling our debt, and looking for meaningful employment all while supporting my service member at our very first duty station.
You can read more about my struggles with military spouse unemployment here.
Prior to my service member enlisting, I was already working in childcare at a military installation. In my ignorance and perhaps also arrogance, I assumed that finding a new job would not be as hard for me due to my education, previous employment experience, and connections. I was wrong.
I made so many mistakes. I did not do my due diligence by researching the job market of my new installation and surrounding areas. I was not aware of the minimum wage. I thought I could just get to my new installation, take a few months to get settled, look for a new job and get hired within two to three months of my arrival. I did not factor in the additional debt our PCS move would put on our finances, and I certainly did not think the pandemic would still be affecting childcare facilities off post.
Click here to read more about the effect of childcare on military spouse unemployment.
The most drastic change for my family was the drop in our income. Transitioning from civilian employment to enlistment in the armed forces resulted in my service member’s yearly income being reduced by half. Additionally, my unemployment status had our household go from two incomes to one. This affected our financial stability and most months we played Russian roulette on which bills would be paid on time and which would have to be late.
Coupled with the rising cost of goods in the last few years, this instability led us to experience food insecurity, like many military families. Thankfully, the Armed Services of YMCA (ASYMCA) Food Pantry and other local food banks helped provide my family the food we needed to thrive.
To help make ends meet, I ended up babysitting in my home, learning how to find coupons, and using money-saving apps. However, I soon found that the stay-at-home parent life was not for me or my family. I searched for jobs both on post as well as off post and started applying. After over a year of applications, seminars, career fairs, and research, I finally found employment.
Despite all of the obstacles, I am working in a job that utilizes my skills and education. I know that if I can do it, so can you.
The Way Forward: There Is Hope
I didn’t do it the “right” way. So, here are four tips to save you from the headache I experienced and get your career back on track.
Tip #1: Facilitate a Transfer of Jobs
As I got my career back on track, the first thing I learned is to facilitate a transfer of jobs, if at all possible. My predecessors had mentioned it, but in the hustle and bustle of my first PCS move and being a new mom, I dropped the ball and thought I could figure it out after moving.
So my advice is to always, always, ALWAYS look into transferring your job from one post to another. Most, but not all jobs on installations are transferable, especially those with the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) and Child and Youth Services (CYS).
Tip #2: Find the Right Job
When searching for jobs, I will personally now be looking into options that make me more versatile, marketable, and desirable as an employee. This includes revamping my resume for government employment, acquiring certifications related to my chosen career field, and networking via LinkedIn.
During my period of unemployment, I also found great value in volunteer work. Volunteering allows you to continue gaining marketable skills that can be added to your resume. It also helps you build new contacts and professional references that you can call on when you need them.
Tip #3: Prepare Your Resume
My third tip would be to remember that preparation is KEY! Don’t wait until you’ve received new duty station orders to update your resume. Take the time to periodically look through your resume and update it with accomplishments, new responsibilities, certifications, and/or experiences relative to your job description.
If you have a professional licensure, make sure to have a general understanding of what it would take to transfer it from state to state as well as which resources are available to you to help mitigate the costs. Some organizations that can help with that are: My Career Advancement Account (MYCAA), My Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (MySECO), Hiring Our Heroes, and Army Community Services (ACS).
Tip #4: Research Your New Location
There are also a few things you can do once you receive orders for your new duty station. First, if transferring your current position is not possible, research your new location’s job market. Look into positions and companies that are similar to your current position. Then, check to see what the range of wages is in your new area. Knowing this range can help you plan your finances.
Now that I have full-time childcare for my daughter at a reputable and affordable daycare in my installation, and hold a regular part-time job, I have the time and means to really evaluate my life and pursue the career I’ve always wanted.
My Career Goals for the Future
Since I was a young girl, I knew I wanted to be in a helping profession. Back then, that looked like being a counselor or child psychologist. My journey has landed me in youth development in after-school programs. I found and thrived in that field at my previous duty station. I honestly did not think I would have that much trouble finding a new job in my chosen career field.
However, I found that despite having a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from San Diego State University and six years of experience in a youth development program, I was only qualified for entry-level, minimum wage jobs at my new location. For this reason, I plan to pursue a graduate degree as well as other social work and counseling certifications. Getting this advanced degree and additional certifications is a great step toward career flexibility.
I will be using some military spouse-specific grants, scholarships, and programs to help mitigate the personal cost to my family. These include: MYCAA, Army Emergency Relief Scholarship, GI Bill, MySeco, Hiring Our Heroes, and more. Additionally, I plan to seek out volunteer work in my chosen field to help me get work experience and marketable skills for my resume.
You Have Options
Throughout my journey, I have learned that, like my service member, I am resilient and I have support. No matter where you are in your journey, there are options to help get your career on track. Even if the workforce is not the right option for you right now, there are resources available to assist you when you’re ready.
The ASYMCA offers supportive programs at little to no cost for military families, such as food pantries, baby bundles, and childcare services to help those who may be experiencing financial instability due to spousal unemployment and other circumstances. Learn more about ASYMCA’s programs today.