Spouses of U.S. service members say they continue to face numerous barriers to employment near duty stations, including Onslow County.
A new survey released last week by Blue Star Families – a nonprofit organization supporting military families through resources for careers, deployment, and quality-of-life activities – revealed 55 percent of military spouses are underemployed. Those stationed locally agree with those findings and say, despite extensive education or experience, they cannot find jobs in their industry.
Military wife Ali Drahos, who has lived in the Jacksonville-area since last year, has a Master’s degree in Public Health. She tried to find employment related to her education, but employers reacted negatively to her resume because of her frequent relocations. In the four and a half years since she has been married, the couple has moved three times.
“A big thing is masters and other advanced degrees - unless you are in nursing or a teacher - are not valued or they make me overqualified,” Drahos said in an email to The Daily News. “Also, the usual questioning of why my resume is all over the place, which leads to me admitting I’m a military spouse, which is usually followed by, ‘we would like someone who will be here long term.’”
She looked for a job for nine months before taking a position as a nanny, but has guilt over the high debt she incurred to complete her degree.
“I have a lot of student loans I need to pay off and, while my husband is perfectly okay with paying for the majority of it, it consumes me with guilt. It impacts us financially because I haven’t been able to hold a steady job for more than eight months due to all of our moves leading to many gaps, in addition to lower pay than what I should be earning,” she said. “I have a lot of stress and anger from not being able to work full-time in my field, we don’t have children and I really want to financially contribute working in a career I went to school for …”
For others, like Mary Haunschild, the demands of military life made it hard for her to get the required experience needed to work in her desired field of social work.
“Although I do have years of volunteer experience and include that on my resume, I am finding that my lack of actual job experience is negatively impacting me obtaining a career. That lack of work experience is due to multiple reasons. First and foremost, I am a mom with three children and a wife to a Marine who is often deployed or TAD (temporary assigned duty). With my husband gone, it is very difficult to manage a household and three rambunctious boys all while working a full-time job,” Haunschild, who has been married 10 years, said. “Additionally, in my particular field (social work), work experience is almost a necessity. … most of my fellow students I graduated with were hired by their internships. This was not an option for me though since my family was PCSing shortly after graduation.”
Her family moved to Jacksonville this summer from Yuma, Arizona. She says the lack of career options for spouses not only affects the workforce, but it may also be a factor in mental health challenges.
“Military spouses are such an amazing untapped resource. We are the definition of resiliency and have so much life experience to offer an organization. Unfortunately, we can also be viewed as problematic to employers since we PCS every few years. This lack of employment affects not only our finances, but also can be a source of depression and anxiety. The connection between mental health consequences and unemployment is definitely a topic that needs to be highlighted on,” Haunschild said.
Those frequent moves are an ongoing requirement of military life, with the average family receiving orders every two to three years. State-by-state relocations have created confusion for spouses who are in a field with license requirements that vary across borders. Danielle Sullivan, of Sneads Ferry, abandoned her initial aspirations of working in mental health to find a career with less restrictions.
“Applying for licensure, waiting to hear back from the board, studying for the exam they require and filling in the gaps are the biggest barriers. Partly because of this process, I’ve decided to leave the mental health field and pursue a field (HR) that is easily transferable from state to state,” she said. “There are also not many Master’s level positions in Onslow County that don’t require a license.”
Sullivan, who currently works as a defense contractor, recommends that others with similar roadblocks take a proactive approach to getting established in a new place.
“Network, network, network. Build a LinkedIn profile and reach out to people in the community who are doing what they want to do. Join professional associations and chapters in your local areas and find a mentor or two to help serve as a guide and motivation with professional development,” she added.
Blue Star Families has a local chapter that offers resources and networking opportunities. To join, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/CampLejeuneBSF.