Matt Bevin (R) is the governor of Kentucky; Kim Reynolds (R) is the governor of Iowa.
With Americans nationwide enjoying the best job market in decades, the unemployment rates in our states, Kentucky (4.1 percent) and Iowa (2.4 percent), are also at or near generational lows. Yet at least one group of Americans struggles with high unemployment: military spouses. In the most recent figures available, the Defense Department reported that the unemployment rate for spouses of military members on active duty in 2017 was 24 percent .
Military spouses who can find work often must settle for jobs below their skill and experience levels. They earn 27 percent less than their civilian counterparts with similar skills and experience, according to a 2018 report by the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. A 2017 U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found that nearly half of military spouses describe their financial situation as “struggling” or living “paycheck to paycheck.”
It’s bad enough that the country is letting down the more than 600,000 spouses of America’s men and women in uniform, but the Pentagon says the lack of job opportunities also potentially harms national security: “The inability of spouses to obtain and retain fulfilling employment as they relocate with the military compromises the quality of life of military families and the readiness of the military force.” The employment barriers facing military spouses may also make it more difficult to recruit men and women willing to serve in the armed forces.
One of the most significant barriers for military spouses, as it is for many other job seekers, is state occupational licensing rules governing hundreds of occupations, including teaching, paralegal and health-care work. Obtaining state certification can require taking courses, passing tests and paying steep fees. These requirements are especially onerous for military spouses, who usually expect to be in a particular state for only a couple of years.
According to Syracuse University research, more than one-third of military spouses work in fields subject to occupational licensing, disproportionately more than the general population. And according to the Chamber survey, nearly one-quarter of military spouses cite occupational licensing as their biggest barrier to employment.
Like countless people across the country who selflessly put their spouses’ careers ahead of their own, military spouses will always face some additional employment challenges. Not only are their moves frequent, but also the military bases are often far from urban centers, where jobs are more plentiful. Numerous public and private programs already exist to help overcome some of these challenges. But state legislators can do even more good by eliminating the burdensome state occupational requirements that require military spouses to repeatedly acquire expensive and time-consuming licenses to work legally in their chosen professions.
Military spouses will no longer have to worry about such rules in Kentucky and Iowa. We are proud to have each recently signed statewide legislation to allow military spouses (and veterans) to use their occupational licenses, issued in any other state, in our states as well.
Under the legislation, state administrative bodies must issue occupational licenses within 30 days of receiving an application from military spouses who are licensed in another state. The reform will benefit not only military spouses but also our state economies, which can now more easily employ this underutilized talent pool.
With help from the Job Creators Network , which has led this multistate effort by convening a meeting of governors and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to address this issue, support is growing nationwide for such occupational-licensing reforms. We are working with 12 other states to implement similar legislation.
We encourage every state to join this licensing-reform effort and help military spouses share in the current labor-market prosperity.