Kathryn Kuziel sees light at the end of the tunnel. With her husband Alex Kuziel getting out of the 82nd Airborne soon, she’s finally be able to look for a job as an IT project manager without worrying that potential employers will pass her over for someone with more staying power.
Like many military spouses, Kuziel has struggled to find work. Despite the fact that military spouses are, on average, more highly educated than their peers, they face unemployment rates of up to 24 percent. Military spouses are also underemployed at high rates.
"I did work in a couple part time positions, just random things here and there, just to have something to do," Kuziel said. "But I just found that it was a little bit difficult because we just didn't know where we're going in the next couple of years or so."
The average military spouse moves every two to three years, and that kind of itinerant lifestyle can cripple their careers. They lose six to nine months of salary following each relocation and often struggle at each new duty station to gain certification for jobs in fields such as nursing, teaching and real estate.
The problem compounds itself as employers hesitate to hire spouses with gaps on their resumes. They worry what will happen during deployments, when spouses are saddled with all the household and child care duties—sometimes for more than a year.
Those who do find work make on average 37 percent less than their civilian counterparts—41 percent less if they have a college degree, according to Rosy Vasquez Maury, Director of Applied Research and Analytics at the Institute of Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
“The higher the education level, the larger the income gap between the spouses and their civilian counterparts,” she said.
While veterans are currently enjoying a 20-year low unemployment rate of just three percent, those 600,000 unemployed military spouses have been less of a focus. But some companies are trying to change that.
RecruitMilitary is one of them. The company connects veterans with employers, but also makes sure to include military spouses in their nationwide career fairs and employment efforts. RecruitMilitary also partnered with Google to create a search tool military spouses can use to easily comb the site’s 240,000 or so job postings for ones that can be filled remotely.
“I think there's 9,000 jobs in there right now that are, no kidding, remote to where they can work anywhere in the country, right from their home, and slide right into these companies," said RecruitMilitary Senior Vice President Chris Stevens.
Indeed, quite a few military spouses are seeking work-from-home opportunities. The “overwhelming majority” of them would take advantage of remote work if their current company offered it, according to Vasquez Maury.
Companies that employ customer service representatives, IT professionals, project managers and accountants can easily convert positions to work-from-anywhere roles, sometimes even at a savings.
Yet work-from-home jobs are not the answer for every company, or everyone. Plenty of professions simply don’t translate beyond the brick-and-mortar storefront or office building. And Vasquez Maury says many companies are still figuring out the policies and practices they’d need in place to ensure military spouses are recruited and retained in these roles.
In the meantime, many military spouses have turned to another kind of online gig: Multi level marketing jobs that typically rely on social media networks to sell a product.
Although military spouses are often drawn to this kind of self-employment because of the flexible hours and requirements, they also fall victim to saturated markets over-plied by other military spouses and the need to rebuild their customer base with each move.
For these modern iterations of a Tupperware party, independent research reveals that the financial payoff is abysmal; fewer than one percent of multilevel marketing participants profit.
Kuziel can confirm that was her experience. She tried selling essential oils for a while, but realized come tax time that she’d spent more money buying the product than she’d recouped selling it.
“I chose to walk away because I didn't really see a future in that type of environment for me, and I just wanted something with a little bit more stability,” she said.