State Licensure: Breaking Down Barriers to Military Spouse Employment

October 22, 2019


Did you know: the Department of Labor (DoL) recently rolled out new online resources for military spouses seeking to be re-licensed after PCSing to a new state?

More on that in just a second! First, let’s talk about military spouse employment

Military spouse employment is a persistent problem for military families.


Obviously, that should come as no surprise. Military spouse unemployment and underemployment continue to persist despite legislative and community efforts. 

We’ve been tracking this issue since the inception of our annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey in 2009, and have elevated military spouse employment to the forefront of DoD and legislative conversations. 

In our 2018 Survey, we learned that frequent relocations/permanent change of station was a primary reason for military and veteran spouse underemployment. This was also reflected in the higher incidence of underemployment among military spouse respondents the more times said spouses relocated. 

Therefore, it’s clear that un/underemployment is a complex problem that many military spouses face. And what’s more is…

Re-licensing is a hurdle to military spouse employment.


Military families move an average of once every three years. What does that mean? Well, military spouses in licensed occupations must undertake the costly and time-consuming process of obtaining a new license every time they PCS across state lines. 

Here’s what one Marine Corps spouse shared with us regarding this ongoing challenge:

“I have two master’s degrees. Due to moving, I have been unable to transfer my licenses in a timely manner. Additionally, the salary in our current state for my particular field is so low that it is not worth the cost of childcare to work outside the home. At previous duty stations, I made enough in my actual field to pay for childcare and still have a take-home salary.”

And as if that isn’t enough, in our 2018 Survey, 18% of active-duty spouses who were not working but would like to be reported that they were not working currently because of licensing/certification issues

So, are you a licensed military spouse? PCSing soon? Feeling anxious?

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Never fear. Resources are here! 

The Department of Labor has rolled out the following new resources for military spouses in licensed professions:

  • Many states help licensed military spouses by allowing for expedited applications, temporary licenses, or license reciprocity. Learn more about each state’s license recognition options and explore additional resources on this new website.
  • Use this interactive map to find out about each state’s license recognition options for military spouses.
  • Use this CareerOneStop license finder to find occupational license information for any state.
  • Learn more about the four-step process you can follow to navigate the license recognition process using this guide.

Additionally, here at Blue Star Families, we have a tech-forward career portal that was created with you in mind. It’s called Spouseforce. To date, we’re tracking more than $48 million infused into local communities and more than 500 military spouses we’ve helped find employment. 

Now, we know what you’re probably thinking…

“These resources are great and all, but what’s actually being done to solve the problem?”

The Secretary of Defense tasked the Defense-State Liaison Office (DSLO) with expanding licensure reciprocity for military spouses in the United States. And recently, the DSLO revealed its tripartite plan, listed below, to alleviate the burden of re-licensing for military spouses.

  • Enforce Existing Policies
  • Enhance Portability (permanent and temporary exemptions)
  • Develop Interstate Compacts (full reciprocity, while still meeting state safety requirements)

Let’s break that down.

1. Enforce Existing Policies: some states have actually passed legislation that would ease the burden of re-licensing on military spouses. But such laws have frequently gone unenforced. Why?

Because, as the DSLO notes, there seems to be a disconnect between state legislatures and their executive branches on this issue. The latter have routinely failed to implement the policies of the former. For that reason, the DSLO’s immediate priority is to ensure that state governments are truly enforcing their own licensure policies.

2. Enhance Portability: some states have been willing to grant military spouses temporary (or even permanent) licenses to enable them to work without having to first undergo the relicensing process.

  • Temporary (or provisional) licensure: allows a military spouse to practice his or her profession while fulfilling the requirements to qualify for permanent licensure in a new state. Prime examples of this include the Arkansas legislature’s passing of HB 1184 and the Texas legislature’s passing of HB 1934. Click here for more details.
  • Permanent licensure: some states have even considered legislation to permanently exempt military spouses from re-licensure, under certain conditions. Examples of this include Utah’s passing of SB 227 and Arizona’s passing of HB 2569. Click here for more details.

Want to identify your state’s licensure policy? Check out this interactive map!

3. Develop Interstate Compacts: a handful of licensed occupations, listed below, already benefit from interstate reciprocity agreements.

  • EMS Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact

*States that have passed model reciprocity legislation for military spouses.

The DSLO’s long-term goal is to develop interstate compacts for nearly all licensed occupations to permanently remove licensure as a barrier to military spouse employment.

Okay, what’s the timeline for this three-part plan?


The DSLO will begin working on all three stages of its reciprocity plan immediately. But the stages will be prioritized in the following order:


  • Enforce Existing Policies – expected completion in 1 year
  • Enhance Portability – expected completion in 5 years
  • Develop Interstate Compacts – expected completion in 10 years

So, why does all of this matter?

Military spouses are highly educated and qualified candidates for employment.  As such, the loss of military spouse contributions to the U.S. labor market is especially detrimental to the health of the American economy. In the end, we must empower military spouses to participate in the U.S. workforce by entirely removing licensure barriers.

societal cost

Military spouse employment is a hot topic. But what additional issues are most important to the families of those who serve?

The Blue Star Families annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey creates opportunities to support the health and sustainability of our all-volunteer force by increasing dialogue and understanding between the military community and broader American society. And in 2018, you told us that spouse licensure was an issue. We listened, we shared, and we are fighting on your behalf. Ultimately, however, the work continues.

Funding for our 2018 and 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Surveys is provided through the generosity of our presenting sponsor USAA, and from supporting sponsors Lockheed Martin Corporation, CSX Corporation, and many others.

We’ll be releasing the results of our 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Survey in early 2020. While you wait, join Blue Star Families for free today to read through our 2018 comprehensive report and a summary of trends related to significant shifts in military issues. We can’t wait to welcome you to our family!