It’s hard for civilians to truly understand, but important for everyone to recognize the daily self-sacrifices that U.S. service members make to protect our freedoms. Also tremendously important is to acknowledge the outsized role that military spouses play in supporting their families, particularly during frequent Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves. They face unique challenges, such as shouldering the tasks of managing the every-day household operations — including short- and long-term finances. Many military spouses have meaningful and rewarding careers that provide financial support to their families. Careers that, for some, have been compromised due to unnecessary professional licensing requirements imposed between different states.
To address this challenge, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the bipartisan Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act of 2021. This legislation supports military spouses with valid professional licenses that are in good standing in one state by making that professional license also valid in the new state where their family is stationed. Now I urge the U.S. Senate to pass the companion piece of legislation that also takes necessary steps to address this significant employment challenge.
Keeping in mind the role that many military spouses play in supporting the financial readiness and security of their families through their employment, they often are presented with barriers to maintaining and advancing their careers when they move to a different state as a result of a spouse’s PCS move. One of these barriers is professional licensing requirements among states. According to a 2019 Department of Defense survey, one in five military spouses who require a professional license waited 10 months or more to receive it after a move to a new state. For some military spouses who have to wait nearly a year to continue their career after a move, their career can be dramatically affected.
Many careers require professional licensing, including teachers, doctors, cosmetologists and Financial Advisors. In fact, Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans & Military Families found that more than 50 percent of military spouses need licensing or certification for their chosen career field. Individual states administer these professional licenses, so when a person moves to a different state, they must apply for a new professional license. Since service members move every two to four years as part of their work with the military, their spouses often struggle with licensing requirements in their new state after a PCS move. The licensing process can be cumbersome, lengthy and costly, which prevents military spouses from transitioning their work quickly after a move.
Eighty-three percent of First Command’s financial advisors are veterans or military spouses, so I see first-hand the challenges they face when it comes to professional licensing between states. In general, far too many qualified and dedicated military spouses are unemployed or underemployed. It’s critical that the U.S. Senate also addresses this serious issue to create more stability and stronger financial futures for our military families.
Spouse career opportunities are particularly important for military families. Spouses contribute to the household income that helps support the long-term financial health of the household. Recent findings from the First Command Financial Behaviors Index®, which surveys middle-class military families with pay grades E-5 and above, revealed that 77 percent of spouses say frequent relocations make it difficult to find and keep employment. And they get a first-hand look at the resulting negative impact of these employment challenges on family finances. Eighty-nine percent say it is primarily their role to manage household finances, including budgeting and savings. With this in mind, it’s critical that military spouses have meaningful employment opportunities to support their families and are not hindered by professional licensing barriers.
March flash survey findings from Hiring Our Heroes, an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, found that the military spouse unemployment rate had increased to 38 percent. With 75 percent of military spouses having at least a bachelor’s degree, their unemployment rate is alarming—and must be addressed because the career challenges of military spouses can directly affect the financial readiness of their families and the recruitment and retention of military members.
One piece of financial planning that we share with our military families is to create a realistic budget and stick to it. For many military families, this budget takes into account a military spouse’s income. When those who require a professional license experience a gap in work (and pay) after a PCS move, it can affect a military family’s entire budget and financial stability. Given the many variables that accompany a PCS move, changing the military spouse licensing requirement will eliminate a time gap in work and financial stress.
Additionally, when a military spouse is challenged to obtain their professional licensing after a PCS move, it has the ability to affect their professional and personal satisfaction and well-being. As a result, their military service member husband or wife could reconsider their military commitment in order to eliminate this career challenge for their spouse and maintain financial security.
As Americans it’s important to value and appreciate the sacrifices that military service members make to protect our country. Their spouses also have earned the right to a career that fulfills their professional drive and provides financial support for their family. Giving military spouses an equal opportunity to pursue career success will help support military families in their continuing pursuit of financial security. And when military spouses have an equal opportunity to pursue career success, they make military service more desirable to others because they can demonstrate a consistent career path — in a military life that presents many changes for their families. With this in mind, I strongly encourage the Senate also to pass the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Steffe is the President/CEO of First Command Financial Services, which provides personal financial coaching to more than 290,000 client families around the world. Mark is responsible for guiding the organization in its efforts to make lifelong financial security possible for all military families. Adhering to the fiduciary standard, First Command accomplishes this by creating lasting bonds with clients through face-to-face coaching and empowering them to develop positive financial behaviors for every stage of their lives. First Command is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, and has 175 offices worldwide. First Command maintains $39.3 billion in managed accounts and mutual funds and has $62.6 billion in life insurance coverage in force, while First Command Bank holds $964 million in deposits. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas along with his wife and five children. On any given day off, you can find him attending one of his children’s sports games or cooking family dinners together.