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Hot Air or Heartfelt? Military Moms Respond to Ivanka Trump’s Listening Session

This past Wednesday, senior advisor Ivanka Trump held a listening session at the White House with a group of military spouses. The topic was employment, or rather, the challenges military spouses face in finding and retaining employment.

According to CNN reporter Betsy Klein, based on a survey of military families released from Hiring Our Heroes, 92 percent of military spouses are female. The military spouse unemployment rate is 16 percent — four times that of all adult women. Furthermore, of the military spouses who have part-time jobs, half of them wish they could find full-time employment.

Military Moms Blog is made up of 41 women, both military spouses and active duty, who reflect all branches of service and are scattered across nine countries. We are diverse in our beliefs on everything from parenting to religion to politics, but we are united in our mission to support, empower, and connect military parents. Do we appreciate that the Trump administration hopes to make things easier for military spouses in the way of career and education development?

Absolutely. But we also have some misgivings.

Here, find some thoughts from a Military Moms Blog Contributing Team listening session of our own. We would love to read your comments, too.

“As a snappy young 20-something, I found myself working in D.C. at a lobbying firm,” writes Corinne Ables, a freelance marketing consultant at Teahouse Creatives. “I enjoyed my clients, gained responsibility fast, and loved roaming The Hill in my scuffed up heels. But I fell in love with my husband around the same time, faster and harder. Country first is a commitment that is a military family’s first priority. What I didn’t realize is that my career would go from something substantial and fulfilling to temp jobs and random babysitting gigs for the first few years of military spouse life. Being stripped of a successful career to a life of many unknowns and great risk does wonders to a person’s sense of self.”

Michelle Saksa, an occupational therapist and adjunct professor, agrees, adding that even when she is able to find meaningful work, the process of obtaining and retaining it can feel impossible. “Some obvious struggles I face are licensing in different states which not only means different required documents for every state but fees. I almost always have to change my driver’s license. It literally feels like an act of Congress to rollover retirement funds into new accounts, and my husband is usually on a temporary duty assignment (TDY) or deployed when I need his signature on something. My resume/CV also screams military spouse, and even though it’s not ethical, it comes up in interviews, so I have to win a potential employer over in thinking that having me for a few years is better than not at all.”

In addition to wanting a job that offers fulfillment and purpose, there is, of course, the monetary help it provides. Losing a job or jumping between jobs can not only hurt the immediate bank statement, it also can shatter years and years of financial planning.

“It cost my family over a quarter million dollars for me to stay with my active-duty husband as he was sent to Germany for three years,” writes Linda (last name withheld). While living in Ramstein, Linda was unable to find a job — there wasn’t any priority placement program for spouses overseas. Now back in the states, she is underemployed as a GS-09; whereas, before she moved overseas, she held a GS-12 job. And because Linda didn’t have career tenure when she left the GS-12 job, she was released from a better civil service retirement system between jobs.

“It is going to cost me another $50,000 over the next 17 years to pay into the same level of retirement now, versus the retirement system I had been assigned before we went overseas,” Linda continues.

“I think it’s great for Ivanka Trump to listen in such a publicized manner,” writes Kate Edstrom, “but I guess I’d be far more interested in their policy proposals for how they will alleviate this issue.”

“I am relieved that someone cares, but skeptical that anything can really be done,” Ables adds. “I hope and I pray that the minds discussing this huge challenge look outside the box and find a solution for our subculture. The solution surely isn’t a cookie cutter one and will look quite different from how the government approaches other unemployment issues.”

“Despite the challenges, lack of resources and frustrations with having to change jobs every year,” Saska writes, “I will continue to do it. I’m incredibly proud of my husband and his career but I’m also incredibly proud of my career. I’ve spent years, money and a lot of effort to get where I am and do something that defines me apart from my spouse.”

Personally, a large part of me is cynical — I truly hope these listening sessions result in action rather than simply garnering positive press. I also hope any initiatives are decided and enacted in an informed manner.

Losing childcare through the federal hiring freeze sometimes looked cute, but mostly it made work feel impossible.

For example, with the federal hiring freeze, I lost childcare for one of my children with only a week’s notice. At the time, I had quit my full-time job as a newspaper section editor in order to move into part-time work and be home more with my newborn. An overseas move around the corner also made this decision make the most sense. By losing the childcare, all of the part-time work I had fought so hard to cobble together was severely hindered.

Although the federal hiring freeze lasted less than four months, at most military installations, those part-time and aftercare programs still have not been reinstated.

Tweets lasts seconds, but once something in the military is in effect, it can take months and even years to reverse. For instance, taking military jobs away from transgender service men and women will hurt military families — including spouses. It also feels contradictory to the aims of Ms. Trump’s listening sessions.

No matter what this administration does or does not accomplish, military spouses who want to work will continue to look for work; we are a tough bunch. But making it easier on us not only helps our well-being and that of our families, it also strengthens the military. Service men and women are much more prone to serve a career in the military when their spouses also are able to find purpose and value.

Part of the reason we created Military Moms Blog was because of these issues with employment. Fellow co-founder Christy Curtis and I often discuss how it seems that military spouses are the most over-educated and under-worked population. By creating a business that can eventually employ more military spouses — no matter their time zone or childcare situation — we wish to do our very small part to tackle this complex issue from the grassroots. 

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