This is a guest post by milspouse Janell J. Lewis Ford. Can you relate to her experience of military spouse unemployment after PCS moves or underemployment because of unfavorable duty stations?

It’s a full 180 for some…A good amount of military spouses give up A LOT to be with their significant other and travel the world—including their dream jobs/careers.

Right now, I live in Fort Irwin, California. People hear “Cali” and think of sun, sand and shores. Well, you’ve got the “sun” part right because this is a military post in the desert with frequent 100-degree+ temps; but the “sand” is actually dust and dirt that gets whisked around by the heavy winds; and the closest beach is more than an hour-and-a-half away (not to discredit the pools and splash pads on post).

It’s in the middle of nowhere…or middle of everywhere, depending on which shade of sunglasses you look through to view it all.

Unemployment after PCS moves

So how’d I end up in this southern California jewel, “roughing it out” with my now husband? In my case, I was senior management at the number one news station in Columbus/Ft. Benning, Georgia when I met him. We fell in love, then the government (and military) did what it does best– rock the boat, just when you think everything is going smoothly…Remind you what business you’ve signed up for and that in this camouflage cage of life, nothing is permanent, except change. (As a former military brat with both parents in the military, I was actually all too familiar with this).

Milspouses struggle with unemployment after PCS moves

We were re-assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I could go on about the casinos, cows, cannons and cold weather, but I’ll save those observations for another time.

I mentioned I was near the top of my career, managing a TV newsroom when my husband and I met in Ft. Benning and now at this point in Oklahoma, I was able to transfer to a local news station and work for the same company because, ironically, my company in Georgia had just bought that tiny station in Oklahoma the month we moved there.

But long story short, I left from working at the news station fulltime, due to less pay—a problem many military spouses encounter with multiple moves and job changes. According to government statistics, the unemployment rate for military spouses is 16%, four times the national average for women and those with jobs are, many times, forced to work part-time for less pay. 93% of military spouses are females.

Flexibility is key to handling unemployment or underemployment

I left the news station—a career I’d been working in fulltime for more than 15 years—to teach in the public school system because, ironically, being a teacher/media liaison paid more! I took a $40,000 a year pay cut working in my new role at the news station…and took a $30,000 pay cut working as a teacher.

So after two-and-a-half years, I’m now here in Fort Irwin, California, and I’ve been on the job hunt. I will continue dabbling in my online/remote news consulting and I actually just got a job offer to teach at the middle school on post. I’ve taught journalism as an adjunct college professor but teaching English, Math, Social Studies and Science to young children, for me, means getting a job that helps pay the bills but may not fulfill my life-long dream. Unfortunately, that’s what many spouses endure throughout their military member’s careers.

Many military spouses struggle with employment after PCS moves. For those who find work, under-employment is a common problem. What are your experiences? #milspouse #unemployment Click To Tweet

Create your own career opportunities!

Fortunately, I have had the chance to complete a host of educational trainings and professional development courses and these are afforded to military spouses at no charge. I encourage spouses to research all of the college and other trainings available to them at no charge or discounted rates through the military—there are plenty to set you on a path to help you gain transferrable skills applicable on any post (medical, education field, etc.).

I also encourage spouses to take advantage of volunteer and civic organizations that provide services of which you’re interested. There are plenty of opportunities on and off post/base that may start off as community service for the Red Cross or a shelter (in my cases) but can turn into part-time or full-time jobs. Lending a hand in that capacity also means networking, which we all know is really key in landing many integral jobs.

With all the constant change the military life throws at you, there are many benefits and rewards. Your spouse has good job security, your family has guaranteed healthcare, you have free education opportunities and you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to live/having a home because the military will always provide a means for one, either on or off post.

I admit it’s tough. As a military spouse (with an Alpha personality like mine), I’ve voiced to my husband that taking what I consider a backseat and having to either temporarily give up or delay my dream is not easy. I just always try to look at the ultimate goal for our family and ensure I’m always supporting him and welcoming that same support for my career from him. I look for digital/online options in my field of media/journalism that I can work from any location and there are other occupations that afford the same sort of opportunities.

I challenge spouses to plan their career paths together, so you’re both on the same page on 5 to 10-year goals and can steadily work towards this; and to always look for the positive aspects in any situation they’re in, regardless of which post/base you’re stationed at or the occupational situation (or lack thereof) you’ve found yourself enduring. Staying positive and looking for the best truly does help you cope emotionally and physically—it definitely has for me.


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