Military spouses face unique challenges when seeking work

Military spouse unemployment on the rise
Allison Devoll and her daughter Olivia on Facetime with Senior Airman Stephen Devoll (Source: KSLA News 12)
Allison Devoll and her daughter Olivia on Facetime with Senior Airman Stephen Devoll (Source: KSLA News 12)

BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - Fighting the job market can be stressful for any of us.

But military spouses around the world have some unique disadvantages when it comes to nailing that perfect job.

In a recent survey of military families highlighted in a CBS report, 77 percent said being a military spouse had negatively affected their professional careers.

Fifty-two percent of the spouses in the survey said they bring in no income.

And nearly half the families had less than $5,000 saved.

The numbers don't lie.

But the questions are why? And what's being done about it?

Senior Airman Stephen Devoll, stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, is on his second deployment to Guam.

"When we're thrown new orders, OK, where we go. We just have to go with it," said his wife, Allison Devoll.

His deployment forced her out of work to stay at home and care for their 2-year-old, Olivia.

In fact, finding a job has been a struggle since Day One at Barksdale for Allison Devoll, who has a bachelor's degree and had a good-paying job back home near Boston.

"I couldn't find that down here at all. I struggled for about six months to find anything worthy of my time."

Allison Devoll isn't alone.

That recent CBS report also found that 38 percent of military spouses are underemployed, compared with about 8 percent in the economy as a whole.

And about 12 percent of military spouses are unemployed, nearly three times the national rate.

"The first question they ask is 'Are you military?'  The next question I get asked is 'Do you know how long you're going to be here'," Allison said.

"So I know in the back of my head they're wondering how long, if they hire me, how long am I going to be here for. And time and time again, I say I don't know."

Raquila Smith said: "The stereotype is well, if you hire a woman in the military, then she's going to leave. You're going to waste your time training her, and then she's going to be gone."

Smith has been a military wife for 10 years.

"Right before I had our daughter, I made $8.45 an hour and I was told to be appreciative because I was one of the highest paid people in the building."

Even with a master's degree, Smith has bounced around the corporate scene.

And the fear of military spouses leaving isn't the only thing that makes potential employers hesitate, she said.

"But also having gaps in service because. if you move overseas or if you move to certain places, you might not have an opportunity to work."

Allison Devoll  agreed, "So I have to explain to the next employer why ... I didn't work for those six months."

"It's not a cohesive resume," Smith added, "and a lot of people question it."

"It is a problem" that Beverly Riles said she recognizes.

"... Certification and licenses has been a big issue for us," said Riles, an employment assistance program manager at Barksdale's Family Readiness Center.

That involves spouses having certain credentials in some states that don't cross over to other states.

Riles said her office helps spouses with resources like resume building, workshops and job fairs.

"We encourage them to come in for anything. And if we don't have what they need, we're going to send them someplace that does," she continued.

"They're out there. They are that silent person doing the job that nobody sees when the military is out there doing their job. And they are educated, they're skilled."

Allison Devoll  thinks military wives are excellent job candidates.  "We're constantly making new friends, constantly learning new things."

Smith added that they also have "... versatility, the experience, the ability to multitask, the ability to compartmentalize."

Military wives could add versatility to some workplaces, she said.

"Yes, you might be taking a chance that you train this person and, couple of months later, they might get deployed or they might PCS on no merit of their own," Smith continued.

"But in those months that you have them, what can they give the employees that you have there? What can they offer?

"What experience can they bring, having had that military experience, into your workplace that will not only help the culture there but help you grow."

On a related note, Louisiana state Sen. Barrow Peacock has authored three bills that would speed the process of out-of-state military spouses in certain medical professions to obtain privileges to practice in Louisiana.

Senate Bill 198 addresses emergency medical technicians (EMTs). It was involuntarily deferred April 25 in the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Senate Bill 202 would apply to nurses. That legislation was reported with amendments Wednesday and referred to the Legislative Bureau.

And Senate Bill 203 addresses physical therapists. It was reported favorably Wednesday in the House of Representatives and referred to the Legislative Bureau.

Generally, in each case, Louisiana would join a compact in which it and other participating states agree to adopt similar requirements for criminal background checks, licensure and education.

And verification of licenses and the sharing of information such as any discipline or adverse actions would be through a coordinated system.

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