Report: Severity of Military Spouse Employment Issues Varies by Location

The severity of military spouse unemployment and underemployment differs by zip code, and job droughts in communities surrounding some U.S. military bases may be making it harder for spouses to find work, even if they’re armed with college degrees, a new report from The Deloitte Center for Government Insights suggests.

Employment opportunities in a handful of so-called “hot labor markets” around U.S. military bases—such as the Pentagon and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.—have driven up the nationwide average number of jobs available near Defense Department installations, making work availability for military spouses seem on par with national averages, the report says.

But, in reality, the metropolitan areas near the bases most military spouses call home are facing job shortages, the report found.

“Well over half of all military spouses live in areas with below-average availability of work,” states the report. “In fact, our research indicates that of the military spouses who live on or near the largest bases, 44 percent live in labor markets with negative availability of jobs, that is, there are fewer jobs available than there are job seekers.”

For example, an infographic from the report showed that the metro area surrounding Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas—home to 16th Air Force and the 37th Training Wing—had a negative net number of jobs up for grabs in 2019, based on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Infographic: Deloitte

“San Antonio has the 7th largest military-connected population and has a robust Veteran & Military Family Office in City Hall that drives employment through a network of industry, government, and nonprofits,” the report notes.

On the flipside, in 2019, the Pentagon metro area had an average of over 135,000 net open positions, and the area near JBLM had over 83,000, according to the same calculations.

And even though military spouses are more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher than the general U.S. population, the report notes, “in hotter labor markets” like these, they still might fall short of their competition for jobs.

Infographic: Deloitte

What can bases leaders do to help counter this issue?

Rosemary Williams—one of the report’s co-authors, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy and as an assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs at the Veterans Affairs Department before coming to Deloitte—offered the following recommendations in a July 21 interview with Air Force Magazine:

  • Mine remote work opportunities for military spouses.
  • Make co-working space available to spouses.
  • Ensure that installations have high-speed internet.
  • Giving spouses “tools and resources” to pursue entrepreneurial and remote work opportunities if their metropolitan areas lack over avenues of employment.
  • Bring upskilling opportunities to installations. “Job-centric upskilling is an approach to workforce development focused on training and getting individuals ready for in-demand jobs,” the report explains. “Upskilling services can be provided by government, nonprofits, universities, for-training and educational entities, or companies. Successful job-centric upskilling programs typically target industry needs, provide needed support, and measure results.”
  • Provide childcare for military-spouse trainings and meetings to increase the likelihood that they’ll attend. “Most times folks can’t attend because they can’t bring two babies on their hips into the meeting,” Williams noted.
  • Solicit feedback directly from military spouses about the issues and obstacles they’re facing. “You’ll find them remarkably resourceful,” Williams said. “There’s … no one more resilient than a military spouse.”
  • Capitalize on their connections to the local economy, from chambers of commerce to “civic organizations such as the Rotary Club.”