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Mission Family: Military spouses may face job discrimination

Mar. 12, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Would you tell a potential employer that you’re a military spouse?

That’s an age-old question related to an age-old issue: Do employers discriminate against hiring military spouses because of their frequent relocations?

With efforts by the White House, Defense Department and an increasing number of employers, we have reason to hope that stigma is fading — at least to some degree.

The issue doesn’t get a lot of study, but a recent survey of military spouses indicates this uncertainty is still the “ghost in the closet” of miltiary spouse employment. For example, about 47 percent of the active-duty spouses said they had been asked by a potential employer if their spouse was in the military.

“This is more than enough to be disconcerting to military spouses seeking employment, especially in today’s troubling economic times,” researchers stated.

About 2,059 female spouses of active-duty members responded to an online military spouse employment survey last fall by researchers at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, under contract with the Military Officers Association of America. It was not a random sampling, but does provide more information to complement their research comparing military spouses and civilian spouses.

Of those surveyed, only 59 percent said they would tell their employer they were married to a service member.

Why do employers ask the question? Is it because they want to hire a military spouse, or because they don’t? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, pre-employment questions about marital status are frequently used to discriminate against women and may violate the law if used to deny or limit employment opportunities.

Spouses in the survey didn’t seem to think employers were asking the question because they wanted to hire a military spouse. Among the 41 percent who said they wouldn’t tell a prospective employer that they were a military spouse, six in 10 said it was because they thought it would make an employer less likely to hire them.

Even among the spouses who would let a prospective employer know, only 9 percent said they told the employer because they thought it would make an employer more likely to hire them.

It is “somewhat troubling, but probably not overstated,” that spouses believe revealing the status of their military husbands would hurt their chances of employment, researchers said.

The survey was of spouses, not employers, and researchers said the issue couldn’t be fully explored without data from both. Nevertheless, one of their primary recommendations was to limit the number of permanent change-of-station moves for military families as a way to strengthen spouse employment opportunities.

This is part of growing body of research — both within and outside the Defense Department — that we can only hope translates to a better quality of life for military families.

Karen Jowers is the wife of a military retiree.

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