Spouses to gain a leg-up in job market

| February 24, 2012 | 0 Comments
First lady Michelle Obama unveils the Military Spouse Employment Report, Feb. 15, at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Obama, along with Dr. Jill Biden, released the report which intends to ease employment barriers for active duty spouses. (Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo | Department of Defense)

First lady Michelle Obama unveils the Military Spouse Employment Report, Feb. 15, at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Obama, along with Dr. Jill Biden, released the report which intends to ease employment barriers for active duty spouses. (Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo | Department of Defense)

Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — Alongside the nation’s top defense officials, first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, unveiled a new report, Feb. 15, that spotlights military spouses’ employment challenges and aims to remove barriers for the thousands of spouses with occupational licenses.

Speaking alongside Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the first lady and Biden described the magnitude of spouses’ licensing challenges and the commitment this report represents in helping to quickly resolve them.

The report, produced by the Defense and Treasury departments, offers a road map that states can use to streamline or expedite licensing procedures.

“We are all here today … to say this to America’s military families, ‘We are incredibly grateful for your service,’” the first lady told a packed audience of leaders and military families in the Pentagon’s auditorium, here. “We understand the unique challenges that you face, and we are going to do everything that we can to make sure that you can pursue your careers and provide for your families.”

Throughout this decade of war, military spouses have kept moving forward despite the challenges of frequent moves and deployments — all while juggling children and a household.

But, when it comes to moving forward in their own careers, “far too often, you can’t just keep moving, because you’ve run into a brick wall,” the first lady said, adding that much of this challenge is due to issues with licensing and certifications.

Obama said she and Biden have heard of these issues at every stop they’ve made to speak with military families.

“It is the No. 1 issue that military spouses tell us about,” she said.

Military spouses in careers that require licenses must confront varying requirements from state to state, she explained. A lack of license portability — the ability to transfer an existing license to a new state with minimal application requirements — can cause spouses to bear high administrative and financial burdens as they attempt to obtain a license.

Obama noted the magnitude of this issue.

More than one in every three military spouses in the workforce has a job that requires a professional license or certification, she said, citing the report.

“This licensing issue affects more than 100,000 individuals — 100,000 individuals,” she stressed, “and the vast majority of you are clearly ready to work when you get to your new state.”

The first lady cited teachers, the most common career among spouses, as an example.

In some states, teachers are required to take an entry-level course in state history or another subject before the licensing board will grant them a license. Teachers with years of experience may end up having to take extra classes before they can even apply for a job, she said.

The first lady lauded the efforts of state officials who have stepped forward to address this issue.

For example, in Arizona, officials passed legislation to grant licenses, in most professions, to military spouses who have at least one year of experience, she said.

These are different solutions, she said, but all enable military spouses to get to work quicker, and all enable states to maintain their professional standards and requirements. Eight other states have followed in their footsteps to create laws of their own, and 15 others have legislation pending or waiting to be introduced.

“But that still leaves 26 states — that still leaves more than half the country — that have yet to address this issue,” she said.

The first lady said officials are setting a national goal today: By 2014, they want to see all 50 states pass legislation to address licensing issues.

Obama said she and Biden plan to present this issue to all 50 state governors and their spouses, later this month, at the National Governors Association Conference, here.

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