Published: June 14, 2021
Modern family structure commonly includes two working parents. Financial stability often requires both parents to work, but beyond that, employment outside of the home can bring mental fulfillment as well. Military families today are no different. However, they face unique challenges based on their lifestyle that make accomplishing a dual income household especially challenging.
So challenging in fact that, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 20% of military spouses are unemployed and 68% of employed military spouses reported being underemployed. Active-duty spouse respondents told us some of the most common reasons for not working among those who need or want to work include the day-to-day demands of their service member’s position making it difficult to balance work and home obligations and a lack of available, affordable child care, among others.
Add in a global pandemic and schools closing for in-person learning and, as you can imagine, these challenges have grown. In fact, 35% of active-duty spouse respondents who need or want to work said the reason they aren’t working is because they are homeschooling or supervising virtual education for their child, making it the most common barrier to employment. While all families have felt the weight of the pandemic, the difference for military families is they don’t always have their service member home to help manage the demands of the household. Martha, an Army veteran and active-duty Army spouse, knows how difficult that can be.
“My Dad served in the Navy and I was serving in the Army when my husband and I met,” Martha shared. “In my lifetime, I’ve moved 18 times. I love being a military family an
d being able to adapt to anything. But this year has really been a challenge balancing work with virtual school. Currently, my husband goes on frequent TDY trips. It’s especially hard when he’s away or pulled into the office.”
Martha definitely isn’t alone. The 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey also found that 42% of military spouses who had been working prior to the pandemic reported they had stopped working at some point during it, and 68% of those who had stopped working remain unemployed.
With her husband away frequently, Martha found herself balancing her full-time position, virtual learning, and care for her special needs child. Eventually, it became impossible to juggle it all on
her own. As a result, while her career is so important to her, Martha debated taking a hiatus from work altogether, ultimately deciding to move from full-time to part-time work to better manage everything on her plate. “My team and leadership have always been supportive of military families and work-life balance, so I’m fortunate that they let me move to part time,” Martha said. “I’m also fortunate that we are able to adjust our budget to accommodate the change. Other military families have faced much worse.”
But Martha’s decision isn’t without sacrifice. Transitioning to part-time work could change her timeline for growth in her career. However, that was a risk Martha was willing to take given her hope to return to a full-time position when it’s safe for kids to return to school. “As our family works through life at home and with school slowly returning to brick and mortar, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Martha said. “For now, we just try to take it one day at a time.”
Blue Star Families is here to help military families like Martha’s as they manage the unique challenges associated with this life. We’re shining a light on what families are dealing with and bringing those stories forward to help create lasting, positive change. Learn more about all the ways we are working to support you by visiting www.bluestarfam.org.