Study: Military spouses’ unemployment costs up to $1B

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Unemployment among U.S. military spouses is costing the economy up to $1 billion annually, according to a new report.

“This finding is most alarming,” Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) said at a press conference Wednesday announcing the report. “We must do more to support our military spouses in the workforce. Ultimately military service is about people, and it is how we take care of those people and their families that determine how the most powerful, most professional all-volunteer fighting force this world has ever seen will be sustained.”

The report, commissioned by Blue Star Families and carried out the by the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah, looked at unemployment and underemployment rates among female military spouses and their effect on the economy.

Military spouses are unemployed at a rate of 18 percent, compared with a 4.4 percent rate for their civilian counterparts, the report found.

Meanwhile, underemployment, where people hold a job below their level of training, runs between 35 to 40 percent for military spouses, according to the report.

The study concluded that the economic effect to the U.S. economy is anywhere from $710 million to $1.07 billion in lost tax revenue and the cost of unemployment benefits.

The economic impact cited in the report does not include the cost of care for depression and other mental health issues that stem from unemployment. 

Researches also did not consider the cost of an otherwise promotable service member deciding to leave the military because his spouse can’t find work.

“When a West Point captain decides not to reup because he’s concerned about his spouse’s career path, the U.S. taxpayer just lost a multimillion dollar investment,” Blue Star Families CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet said.

Roth Douquet said she’d like to see Congress hold hearings to address the issue of military spouse unemployment. She said it would also be helpful for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to specifically track military spouse unemployment in the same way it tracks veterans unemployment.

“If you want to solve a problem, you need to be  able to measure it,” she said.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who  is married to a veteran, said the report will help lawmakers recognize the problem and come up with solutions.

“This study will play a critical role in helping us define the scope of the problem and also identify the best solutions, like building partnerships with innovative companies,” she said. “Our economy and our nation will be stronger when military families have the support they need and the access to resources they deserve.”

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