Looking for workers? Hiring military spouses (on site or remote) could be solution

Military family lifestyle survey finds 22% of spouses are unemployed — and ready to work

Six months after a survey reported that more than half of New Jersey businesses found it a challenge to find qualified candidates for job openings, a military lifestyle survey said there are more than 80,000 unemployed military spouses looking for work.

In November, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s Business Outlook Survey said 55% of Garden State businesses could not find appropriate staffing due mostly to a shortage of qualified candidates. Yet, more than one-quarter of these businesses said they plan to increase employment in 2024.

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The recently released Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted annually by Blue Star Families reported 22% of military spouses are unemployed, more than five times the rate of their civilian counterparts.

Blue Star Families estimates there are 594,000 military spouses nationwide, of which 64%, or 380,000, participate in the workforce. With an unemployment rate of 22%, that means more than 83,000 military spouses are looking for work.

Because of the difficulties related to military spouses finding work, 31% of active-duty military families said in the survey they are “just getting by” or “finding it difficult to get by” financially.


Jessica Strong, senior director of applied research at Blue Star Families, and a military spouse herself, believes businesses would benefit greatly from hiring military spouses.

“Military spouses are educated, talented and resourceful,” Strong said. “I have seen spouses take Zoom calls on top of a pile of U-Haul boxes in the middle of a move, and I have been that spouse, too. No matter the challenge, military spouses find a way.”

Jessica Strong.

Strong knows this firsthand; she has been a military spouse for 18 years.

She and her husband, Nick Strong, have moved six times, or once every three years on average. The Strongs personify the challenges faced by military families.

A few years ago, Nick Strong received orders that involved a relocation to a duty station in Italy. The family was living in North Carolina at the time and their children were getting acclimated to the neighborhood and the schools they were attending.

Jessica Strong, who holds a master’s degree in social work from Fayetteville State University and a Ph.D. in social work from Rutgers University, was teaching at the University of North Carolina and was on a tenure track when her husband’s relocation orders came through.

What to do?

“It was an extremely difficult decision,” she said. “We did not want to uproot the kids and I did not want to lose the tenure track. So, we decided I would stay in North Carolina with the kids. We figured it was only for two years.

“I see so many military families that have to make the same kind of difficult decisions — is it better to separate your family for one or two years so you can continue a career, or do you move and keep the family together?”

Ironically, when Nick Strong returned from Italy, he was assigned to a duty station in Kentucky. This time, the family opted to move to the Bluegrass State together and Jessica Strong sacrificed her tenure, missing it by just a few months.


U.S. Department of Labor statistics show 9 of 10 military spouses are women and have some college education, 30% have a four-year degree and 15% have an advanced degree.

Despite this strong profile, military spouses traditionally have higher unemployment rates than their civilian counterparts, mostly because employers are concerned about how long they will remain in jobs.

Available expertise

The Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families identified the percentage of military spouses that have experience in the following professional fields:

  • Education: 17%
  • Health care: 12.6%
  • Nonprofits: 8.5%
  • Financial/business services: 7.9%
  • Administrative services: 5.1%
  • Communications/marketing: 5%
  • Government/policy: 4.8%
  • Retail/customer service: 4.7%
  • Community/social services: 4.3%
  • Military/defense contractors: 3.5%

This information is from the 2022 survey.

Consequently, according to Jessica Strong, military spouses have historically been reluctant to identify themselves. But, that trend seems to be changing.

“The good news about COVID is, it demonstrated to employers that remote work can be beneficial,” she said. “This year’s survey showed one-third of military spouses were able to retain their jobs during a relocation, thanks to remote work.”

The Blue Star Families survey recommends that businesses can effectively tap into the demographic of unemployed spouses by adopting at least one of these four military spouse-friendly policies:

  • Flexible office hours;
  • Remote work;
  • Job transferability;
  • Paid or permissive leave for a relocation.

The survey further recommends businesses join at least one existing government program that focuses on helping military spouses find jobs.

These recommendations have been dubbed the 4+1 Commitment by the two organizations that jointly developed them — Blue Star Families and Hiring our Heroes, a nonprofit arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

For more information, click here.

About the survey

Blue Star Families is a nationwide nonprofit that coordinates and provides support to military families. The 14th annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families was conducted between May and July 2023, in collaboration with Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

It generated 7,431 total responses from active-duty personnel, National Guard and Reserve service members, veterans and family members for all these groups.