Who are the best workers employers never thought to hire? Military spouses.
Military spouses bring skills, training, and characteristics needed by Wisconsin employers, especially in the face of a workforce shortage. Their commitment to their country, following nearly two decades of American’s longest war and millions of servicemember deployments, shows they are the unsung heroes of our nation’s military and communities around the state.
When members of the military are called upon to serve abroad, they often leave behind a family who must carry on in their absence. While recognition is rightfully directed at members of our armed forces, the service of their spouses often comes with great sacrifice and stress. Changing family needs, frequent relocations, and extended deployments and training rotations make it difficult to maintain or advance a career. Despite their desire for permanent positions and being better educated than the general population, military spouses are often relegated to part time or temporary jobs. The resulting stress, financial challenges, and lack of opportunity creates significant challenges for military families and ultimately influences a family’s decision to stay in or leave the military.
A 2017 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that 88 percent of military spouses have some post-high school education, 24 percent have a college degree, and 15 percent have a postgraduate degree. Their real-life experience provides them with skills employers desire, such as dedication, problem solving, attention to detail, and leadership.
These skills not only improve our workforce, they improve our communities. It is in our best interest to invest in military spouses if we hope to support our military service members and communities across the state.
Despite these qualifications, unemployment and underemployment remain significant challenges for military spouses. In 2017, the unemployment rate of military spouses, 92 percent of whom are women, was 16 percent, four times higher than the overall unemployment rate. More than two-thirds of military spouses have had to resign or change their job due to the demands of their spouse’s military service. The lack of employment opportunities leaves 44 percent of military families financially struggling or living paycheck to paycheck.
The state of Wisconsin has committed to tackling this challenge head on. As one of the first initiatives of his administration, Gov. Tony Evers has announced a partnership between the state of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce to designate Wisconsin as a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Hire Our Heroes Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone. This is the first such designation in the country focusing on spouses of National Guard and Reserve component service members. The designation, a collaboration between the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, brings together employers and business leaders to commit to hiring military spouses in Wisconsin.
Military spouses are assets to businesses and communities across Wisconsin. Their burden and sacrifice are often overlooked but are nevertheless essential to our military and national defense. Employers have an important role to play in supporting these military families and allowing their service member to focus on their mission — protecting and defending the United States.
Employers interested in being part of the Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone program can learn more at wiveteranschamber.org.
Saul Newton is executive director of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce.
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