By Donna Counts
The 2016 Blue Star Families Military Lifestyle Survey summary was released in January 2017. The Blue Star Survey is an annual snapshot of the state of military families and the largest nongovernmental survey of its kind and provides information needed to understand the wellbeing of military families, critical information since family and individual wellbeing is key to the success of the nation’s all-volunteer force. According to the survey, just over half of all military personnel are married, while 36 percent are married with children. Survey respondents indicated family quality of life is the top reason for leaving the service. When asked about their top concerns, 37.9 percent of military spouses site their employment as a major concern.
Military service members and their families often have to move across state lines, and these moves can be difficult on military spouses as they try to maintain their own careers. More than one-third of military spouses are in an occupation that requires them to have a license, and licensing requirements are set at the state level with significant variation from state to state.
Frequent moves and unpredictable work schedules make it difficult for find a job and creates financial stress for the family. The 2015 Demographics Report prepared by the Department of Defense, the latest report that is available, found that 79 percent of active duty spouses had moved across state lines or abroad in the past five years, and 27 percent of spouses reported that it took ten months or more to find employment after a move. Perhaps not coincidentally the 2016 Blue Star Families report found that 79 percent of military spouses felt that military spouse status has a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career, and 63 percent of military spouses encountered licensing challenges due to relocation. This difficulty is reflected in the 2016 unemployment rate for military spouses of 21percent compared to the 4.9 percent national unemployment rate.
Significant obstacles for military spouses finding employment are state occupational licensing laws. State licensure can disproportionately affect military families because military families tend to be more mobile. Other segments of the workforce also face difficulty when moving from place to place due to occupational licensure. Licensure can ensure that licensed professionals have the qualifications to meet quality, health and safety standards. Licensure can also help to encourage a higher level of skill and professionalism which can translate into higher wages. However, licensure can present obstacles to workers attempting to enter a profession by increasing the training requirements and associated costs or when workers move across state lines and have to comply with different state licensing requirements. While licensure can increase individual wages, it can also increase the prices consumers pay for the services provided by the license professional.
The problem for military spouses more prevalent in states with a high concentration of military personnel and families. The following chart illustrates the state-by-state distribution of active duty military and families and the following table presents data on the peent of the workforce requires an occupational license. California is the state with the highest military population with 324,666 and 20.7 percent of its workforce requires some sort of an occupational license. Virginia has the second largest military population with 291,225, and 17.2 percent of its workforce requires an occupational license.
There is little disagreement that licensure serves a needed purpose if the quality, health and safety standards are obvious. In this case, policy best practices for establishing occupational licensing include standardizing the licensing requirements for occupations and encouraging inter-state compacts that recognize licenses from other states. When the benefits to the public are less clear and licensure requirements create significant barriers to employment, then it may be time for state leaders and policymakers to re-evaluate the licensure requirements.
Blue Star Families. 2016 Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey: Comprehensive Report. Falls Church, VA: Blue Star Families.
Department of Defense (DoD), Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy (ODASD (MC&FP), 2015 Demographics Profile of the Military Community,
Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), Active Duty Spouses and Active Duty Members: Spouse Employment, Satisfaction, Financial Health, Relationships, & Deployments, Results from 2015 Survey of Active Duty Spouses & 2013-2014 Status of Forces Surveys of Active Duty Members, July 2016.
Spouse Employment Report, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University, February 2014.