The federal government employs over 16,000 military, veteran, and surviving spouses as of 2023, per the White House.
There were over 578,000 spouses of active-duty service members in the US military as of 2022, according to the Department of Defense (DoD). About 7.2% of them were active duty military members themselves.
The DoD's Survey of Active-Duty Spouses found that the unemployment rate among the civilian spouses of active-duty military members was 21% in 2021. This is nearly four times the overall unemployment rate of 5.3% that year.
According to the DoD Survey, the civilian unemployment rate for civilian spouses of active-duty members did not statistically change between 2015 and 2021, holding at about 21%.
Civilian spouses of active-duty service members face long-term employment challenges because of their spouses’ change-of-station moves, which happen every two to three years.
The federal government is working to increase military spouse employment: First, by improving opportunities for military spouses through the Strategic Plan on Hiring and Retention for Military and Veteran Spouses, Caregivers, and Survivors, which markets the talent of military spouses to agencies.
Additionally, it plans to increase federal job postings that include the Military Spouse Noncompetitive Appointment Authority, which allows agencies to appoint qualified candidates without using the traditional competitive examination procedures. The Biden administration also plans to increase access to childcare for military families to help military spouses pursue full-time professional opportunities.
The Survey of Active-Duty Spouses has limitations, including imprecise estimates based on small sample sizes that had to be excluded from the report. Data on military spouses with professional credentials in specific occupations including nursing was limited and could be used as the basis for unemployment estimates for those demographics.
The Government Accountability Office, which analyzed the survey data, noted that all percentage estimates have a margin of error of plus or minus 10% or less. Survey data also fails to account for factors such as the number of change-of-station moves and demographic characteristics that could influence unemployment, such as gender, race, or educational attainment.
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