President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday encouraging federal agencies to hire more military spouses, a population whose employment lags behind the rest of the United States.
“You’re going to be given better treatment than ever before,” Trump promised military spouses Wednesday. “We can never repay you for all that you do, but we can and we will give you the opportunities you deserve. When you are strong, your families are strong and America thrives.”
The White House described the order as the first step in a larger effort by the Trump administration to increase military spouse employment. Based on a survey, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated the unemployment rate for military spouses was 16 percent in 2017. The overall unemployment rate in the United States was 3.9 percent as of April. The veteran unemployment rate in April fell to 3.7 percent.
“We are going to change that, and we are going to change it as quickly as we can,” Trump said. “It will go fast.”
The executive order pushes agencies to apply more liberally a federal law that gives preference to military spouses for government jobs. The Defense Department is putting the preference to use, but other agencies could do more, said a Trump administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The order also directs the Office of Personnel Management to increase awareness of the hiring preference for military spouses and train agencies about how to use it. It requires government agencies to report how many military spouses they hire each year.
“As a federal government, if we are going to be working with our private sector and asking for others to hire military spouses, we need to lead by example,” said Jennifer Korn, a special assistant to the president.
Last year, Kellyanne Conway, a presidential counselor, announced she would examine employment challenges for military spouses. Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter and personal adviser, has also taken up the issue, Korn said.
Military families frequently move, often with little notice. It is viewed as the biggest challenge facing military spouse employment. Spouses often must quit their jobs and face long periods of unemployment or underemployment after they move, according to a Chamber of Commerce report from 2017.
Spouses who hold professional licenses must also overcome the obstacle of getting licensed in a new state or country. According to a report released Wednesday from Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, 35 percent of military spouses in the labor market work in occupations that require a license or certification – meaning they must navigate varying licensing laws when they move across state lines.
Trump said Wednesday that his administration is working with states in an attempt to have them remove licensing barriers for military spouses.
The Council of Economic Advisers estimated military spouses earn about $12,000 less each year than other workers because of constant moves, unpredictable hours, deployments and assignments to rural bases.
When a servicemember is determining whether to stay or leave the military, their spouse’s employment is often a deciding factor, the Chamber of Commerce reported.
“It is really important that the commander in chief not only have the backs of our servicemembers but also have the backs of our military spouses,” Korn said. “Having a very healthy military family is important to our national security and also retention in the military.”
Trump signed the order at the White House on Wednesday at an event with First Lady Melania Trump and military spouses and mothers.
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