Go to school. Graduate. Find a job. Everything is on track.
Meet a servicemember. Get married. Everything is derailed.
It sounds bleak, but this is the path many military spouses endure with a smile and a willingness to volunteer or continue to accept positions below their skill level just to maintain a career. Nearly two thirds (63%) of respondents to the Blue Star Families’ 2021 Military Lifestyle Survey reported at least one circumstance of underemployment, which is consistent with the previous year’s survey.
Underemployment translates to lost income and a decline in well-being. A 20-year tie to the military could cost full-time, year-round working military spouses $189,614 in lost income, according to a 2018 White House report which estimated those spouses earned 3.4% less than would be expected given their demographic characteristics.
Last year, first lady Dr. Jill Biden reignited Joining Forces, a White House initiative to support military families, and called on the federal government to become the “employer of choice” for military spouses. Noncompetitive appointment authority for military spouses was established in 2008 to enhance federal employment opportunities. However, there is much work remaining to ensure human resource and hiring managers truly understand this authority, along with other existing authorities, and implement pathways to recruitment and retention of military spouses.
The Military Spouse Employment Act (S. 4337) takes steps to ensure federal agencies can take advantage of the talent, expertise, and quality of work military spouses are capable of through direct or remote federal work, regardless of where they are stationed. Introduced by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the bill provides federal agencies with clear authority to hire military spouses to fully remote positions and allows them to retain the position regardless of PCS transfers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that we are ready for almost anyone to work from almost anywhere, which gave us this opportunity to help military spouses find and keep a federal job while their spouse also serves our nation,” Lankford said. “The relocation that comes with serving in our nation’s armed forces has prevented our military spouses from seeking long-term employment – until now.”
As the federal government has moved to hiring for fully remote positions, There is some confusion among federal agencies on the use of the military spouse hiring authority in conjunction with hiring to fully remote positions. This bill recognizes the importance not only of remote work, which can still require an employee to live within commuting distance of the office, but of portable work, which allows the employee to work from anywhere. Providing these opportunities to military spouses will help reduce the high percentage of underemployment and potentially enhance retention rates among servicemembers who consider leaving service due to concerns with spouse employment.
Lawmakers need to hear from their constituents. Use your voice to urge your senators to co-sponsor the Military Spouse Employment Act. Share MOAA’s Legislative Action Center link with your networks and amplify the message.
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