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Helping Spouses Find Jobs

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 17, 1996 – Finding a job isn't easy if you move every few years. It's tough to gain seniority when you're always a new hire.

This is the plight facing countless military spouses, but help is on the way. DoD is setting up a project to help spouses build job skills, increase educational opportunities and promote networking between military and civilian communities. During the next three years, DoD will allocate $250,000 a year for the Spouse Employment Demonstration Project.

The goal is to promote effective installation projects to help military spouses obtain non-federal employment, according to Carolyn H. Becraft, deputy assistant defense secretary for Personnel Support, Families and Education. The project targets private sector jobs, she said, because federal agencies, like DoD, are undergoing budget cuts and downsizing.

A 1992 DoD survey of members and spouses showed increasing numbers of spouses in the labor force, according to officials in DoD's Family Policy office. About 65 percent of military spouses surveyed work outside the home, contributing an average of 30 percent toward the family income, officials said.

"The [1995] Quality of Life Task Force found that the lack of employment opportunities is a pervasive economic and morale issue for members and families," Becraft said in a letter announcing the project to the service personnel chiefs.

Spouses cite employment as a major concern, second only to the safety of the military member, according to Family Policy officials. Unemployment levels among military spouses are four times greater than among their civilian counterparts. About 42 percent of surveyed spouses report having problems finding jobs that use their training, experience and skills.

Due to frequent moves in the United States and overseas, officials said, spouses have to contend with diverse job markets and a lack of career progression, training opportunities and seniority. The mobile lifestyle makes it difficult to participate in long-term retirement plans and to earn vesting rights.

Becraft said the new project will help spouses improve their skills and take advantage of educational opportunities leading to better paying jobs. Promoting networking between the military and civilian communities will enhance employment opportunities for local and military spouses, she said.

Installations with family centers that administer spouse employment programs are competing for funding by submitting project proposals, due by Oct. 31. After an initial screening by DoD, service evaluation panels will make selections.

Criteria include the installation's assessment of local employment needs, outreach strategies, collaboration with other installation and community partners, cost and performance measures. Winners are scheduled to be announced in December. Each service will be authorized to distribute $60,000 a year for selected projects.

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