Second in a three-part series
In this economy, who in their right mind would quit their job and move to a new city where they don't have any contacts? That's exactly what thousands of military spouses do each year. They don't have a choice.
Stephanie Davis thought she had picked a field that would be portable: teaching.
"And I really loved it," says Davis. "I was at a great school, great district."
That is, until last year when her husband, 2nd Lt. Charles Davis, an Army officer, got orders to transfer to Fort Hood in Texas.
"They let me out of my contract," says Davis of her old school district. "They understood obviously as a military spouse that we kind of never know where we're going or when we're going to be going, so they were very cordial about it."
They arrived in Texas in October. Davis was convinced she'd be working by December. After all, she's a special education teacher with two master's degrees.
What she wasn't expecting was the wave of state and local government layoffs that has swept the nation, including Texas.
"When I moved here, within I think it was about a month is when they published in the paper that they were cutting like 60 to 70 jobs in the Killeen school district alone," she says.
Davis has applied for teacher's aid positions and jobs at Barnes & Noble, Target and Starbucks. But nothing worked out. She's done some substitute teaching. Nine months later, though, Davis is still looking for a steady job. And she's not alone.
A 26 Percent Unemployment Rate
The national unemployment rate is above 9 percent. But it's much higher for military spouses.
"We have a high unemployment rate," says Robert Gordon, head of Military Community and Family Policy at the Pentagon. "At the end of the day, it's a 26 percent unemployment rate; 80 to 85 percent of our spouses want to work. And there are some spouses who are working and want other sorts of jobs."
That 26 percent rate comes from a Defense Department survey conducted late last year. It includes both spouses who are looking for work and those who want to work but have given up the search. Jonna Mastropasqua fits into that category.
"Because [my husband's] job comes with more money and benefits, it was kind of a no-brainer for us to go with his career over mine," says Mastropasqua.
Her husband is a Marine based at Camp Lejeune. For a while, she was working at a local community college, but with her husband's constant deployments, it didn't work out. Mastropasqua wants to work, but she says there just aren't many options for someone with a master's in women's studies living near Jacksonville, N.C.
"And it's not like we can decide as a couple that I can make more so we can move somewhere else," says Mastropasqua. "He's wherever they say that he has to be."
It's Never Been Easy
For military spouses, the current dismal labor market makes the job hunt harder. But it's never been easy for them to have a career. Katie Savant remembers when her husband was stationed at Camp Lejeune.
"Employers were interviewing me based on my husband's job and my husband's career," Savant says. "That was shocking and appalling to me. They weren't valuing the skills that I could bring to them. It was very difficult."
Savant ultimately got a job as a paralegal. Today, she works in government relations for the National Military Family Association helping other spouses.
Savant says military spouses are on average more educated than the general population, but they make less money. There are reasons; the tell-tale holes in the resume, the frequent moves to cities and towns with bases.
"It's definitely disheartening for the spouse to realize that gosh, I have all these skills and these skills are needed, but no one will hire me," says Savant. "And they won't hire me because I'm a military spouse. Because they don't know how long I am going to be here."
These days, with so much competition for just about every job, employers can be picky. Stephanie Davis, the teacher who had to move to Texas, has run up against another obstacle. Different states have different rules. So, she's now trying to get her Texas teaching credential. She just learned she's going to have to take two state tests. When she's all done, the total cost will be more than $550 and there likely still won't be a job when she's done.
"It almost makes you want to throw up your hands and say, 'What am I even trying for?' " she says.
Davis jokes that by the time she gets her Texas teaching credential, it will be time to move again.
The military has known about these problems for years. The Defense Department says it is working to get state legislatures to take on the certification issues for teachers, nurses and other jobs that require state licensing. And last month, it launched a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to match military spouses with portable careers.