You don’t have to watch a South Park movie to know this: African Americans comprise a disproportionate amount of those enlisted in the US military. For example, Black troops made up nearly 30% of the enlisted Army. A 2011 Pew Research Center found that of the 167,000 enlisted women in the military, 31 percent are black, twice their percentage in the civilian female population.
That means that a good chunk of them are also military spouses, many who face challenges raising a family while their husband or wife serves in the armed forces . They also face the risk of being re-assigned and having to uproot their lives. In tough financial times when it may be necessary to pitch in and support the household income, the transient aspect of military life makes it tough for spouses to settle into and grow in their careers.
Last week, Michelle Obama announced that 11 companies have pledged 15,000 jobs for military spouses. Captain Brad Cooper, executive director of the White House’s Joining Forces campaign, said the initiative started about a year ago to connect private sector employers with military spouses looking for work. The job opportunities will be added to a jobs database, the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership of over 100 private-sector companies that have already pledged commitments.
“What we’re trying to do with this announcement is that we’re trying to meet these spouses where they are,” the First Lady told reporters on a recent conference call. “And for those of you on the call who are managing families — because we all deal with this issue, particularly as working parents — you know what kind of difference it makes to be able to have job opportunities that you can do from home.
“Just think of it, when the next set of orders comes in for these families and they have to move across the country, this is — they’ll be able to move these jobs with them.”
Military families are 10 times more likely to move across state lines than civilian families. The benefit of home-based jobs is the flexibility they offer for families that have to move frequently – and for spouses that have the dual role of being the sole-provide to small children or elderly parents that live at home.
Military spouse Dawn Schaeffer said she didn’t realized what military families go through until her husband Staff Sergeant Travis Schaeffer was redeployed from his station in Guam where the two had met and married. She was pregnant at the time and found the move trying. Dawn discovered she’d have a tough time finding another job as a veterinary technician, but still knew she had to supplement the family’s income. She eventually found a job as a customer service representative with a telecommunications company Arise Virtual Solutions, one of the 11 companies that have pledged additional jobs.
“I was really excited about this opportunity because it allowed me to set my own schedule; it allowed me to stay at home,” said the mom to 7-month baby girl Gwen, and whose husband is a senior munitions inspector stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri. “I get to provide customer service to some of the biggest companies in the world….[a]nd I don’t have to worry about making ends meet if we get transferred or have to move to another base”
The jobs are physically located in close proximity to active military bases.
But some military spouses that have degrees, including advanced degrees, and have long work history in a particular industry have said that they are disappointed that the majority of the jobs are at call centers.
A writer at the Spouse Buzz section of a website dedicated to military spouse wrote of the 15,000 jobs:
“That coulda been amazing. We probably have 15,000 jobseekers among our readers at SpouseBuzz alone. Then I found out that of the 11 new employers offering those 15,000 jobs, all 11 offered work at call centers.
“That floored me. Call centers? The call center industry is notorious for repetitive tasks, low employee morale and high attrition. They might offer a good bill-paying opportunity to some spouses during some phases of life, but call jobs aren’t actually hard to find. Those are jobs that are hard to get anyone to take.”
The responses to the post generated some passionate reply including one from commenter SemperSteen who said: “I would rather not work than work at a call center. Call me what you will but that’s how I feel. I worked my butt off for my degree and paid my dues at low-paying customer service jobs to earn tuition money,” adding that “[t]he problem with military spouse employment is finding *meaningful* jobs that correlate with a spouse’s education and skills.”
But does such a response to an effort to secure jobs make the spouses ungrateful or snobby for wanting work not considered menial and tedious?
Some spouses say that some work may be better than none.
Delaware-based spouse-to-retired naval officer, Joy Hector Lazarus said “having been the spouse of a retired Veteran for almost 10 years I would use this benefit to my full advantage if given the opportunity.”
When asked of whether some military spouses may not like the job, Cooper said his office had received positive responses from spouses that have said the jobs are actually ideal for getting some income.
An informal poll from the military Spouse Buzz site revealed that while 49.2% of respondents said they would not take a call center job, 32.8% said they’d take the job if they couldn’t find any other work, and 18% said the job would be perfect for them.