USS Arlington

Family members greeted a returning sailor from the USS Arlington upon its return to Norfolk in July.

By Carlos Hopkins, Barry DuVal and Eric Eversole

Military spouses face many unique challenges and deserve recognition for their contributions to our community and to our country. Frequent moves can make it difficult for spouses to build a sense of community and find a job that works with a military schedule.

Moves between duty stations also might disrupt spouses’ careers, making it much harder for military families to secure the dual income stream that most American families want and need. In addition, the service member of the spouse may be away for months or years at a time on military assignment. All of these factors may leave even the most adaptable spouse unemployed or under-employed.

According to a recent study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, military spouses have an unemployment rate of 16%, which is far higher than the national rate of around 3%. Additionally, the study shows the rate of part-time employment among military spouses is 31.6%, with more than half of those spouses indicating they would prefer to work full time.

With Virginia home to 30 military installations, 155,046 military members and 714,410 veterans, the number of military spouses residing here is significant. Under the leadership of Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia has accelerated efforts to reduce spousal unemployment and ensure military spouses have access to rewarding careers and economic opportunity in the commonwealth.

Virginia is proud to partner with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse initiative to become the first state in the nation to launch four regional Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones (MSEEZs).

Located in Richmond, Roanoke, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the Virginia MSEEZs, led by regional chambers of commerce, foster collaboration among local stakeholders to address the staggering rates of military spouse unemployment and underemployment. These efforts across the Virginia are leading community-based solutions to break down barriers to entry for military spouses.

To further highlight the important role of military spouses in our workforce, the Virginia Chamber Foundation and the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS) are joining forces to host the first annual Virginia Veterans and Military Affairs Conference on Thursday, Sept. 26, in Richmond. With the theme, “Empowering Virginia’s Military Families Through Strong Communities,” the conference will bring together national, state and local leaders to discuss reducing the challenges military spouses face when pursuing careers.

Virginia employers will hear best practices on recruiting, training and implementing innovative remote work polices for spouses. The Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Program awards also will be announced and, new this year, a V3 partner employer will be recognized for the most military spouses hired.

Over the past decade, the business community has been committed to its goal to hire veterans and has successfully brought the veteran unemployment rate down to 3% nationwide. Now, it’s time to step in and assist our military spouses, who bring skills and training needed by Virginia employers. As with veterans, Virginia companies are striving to hire more military spouses and include spouses in their companies’ hiring metrics.

Military spouses are invaluable assets to companies and communities across the commonwealth. These spouses are already serving the nation. They also want to put their skills to work in meaningful jobs. Increasing military spouse employment opportunities will ensure the commonwealth of Virginia remains a leader in supporting veterans, the military and their families.

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Carlos Hopkins is Virginia’s secretary of veterans and defense affairs. Contact him at carlos.hopkins@governor.virginia.gov.

Barry DuVal is president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at b.duval@vachamber.com

Eric Eversole is president of Hiring Our Heroes and vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at eeversole@USChamber.com

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