On the Friday before Mother’s Day, the United States recognizes military spouses for their sacrifices and contributions to the Armed Services and the nation. Sometimes, the day is commemorated with small celebrations hosted by service organizations or installation agencies. Often, warm sentiments of gratitude can be seen on social media and in news articles. For this year’s Military Spouse Appreciation Day, the Thrive team of research professionals and the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State would like to extend our thanks and share a few resources for military families that may help ease the challenges inherent in military life.
(Defense Logistics Agency, 2017)
- The first Military Spouse Appreciation Day was observed on May 23, 1984.
- Caspar Weinberger (U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1981-1987) standardized the Friday before Mother’s Day as Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
- In 1999, Congress officially made the observance part of National Military Appreciation Month.
In February 2023, the Department of Defense released the results from the 2021 Active Duty Spouse Survey (ADSS). Administered biannually, the ADSS surveys spouses of active duty Service members to gather insight into their well-being and their experiences and attitudes toward military life. It also tracks trends and changes over time, which can help the government and support organizations understand how to best serve the needs of military families. The 2021 ADSS collected data on spouse employment, relocation, spouse education, financial health, food insecurity, child care, deployment, and satisfaction with military life. Topics that were a top concern for military spouses or that spouses indicated added to the challenge of military life included employment, child care, food insecurity, and overall family well-being. The resources outlined below may help military spouses and their families take actionable steps to address these concerns.
(U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, 2021)
- There are 944,329 military spouses in the United States, and the majority are spouses of active duty personnel.
90% of spouses of active duty Service members are female. The Marine Corps has the highest percentage of spouses who are female (96%), and the Air Force has the highest percentage of spouses who are male (13%).
- 85% of spouses of Selected Reserve members are female.
- Two-thirds of all military spouses are 35 years of age or younger.
Military spouses face an unemployment rate of 21% for active duty spouses and 7% for Guard/Reserve spouses (U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, 2021). This is significantly higher than the 3.5% national average unemployment rate in the United States (U.S. Department of Labor, 2023). Military spouses experience multiple challenges to finding and maintaining employment, including frequent moves, difficulty obtaining child care, and license transfer costs and requirements. In the 2021 ADSS, spouses who stated they were employed were more likely to be working in their area of training or education (Office of People Analytics, 2023). The following resources are available to help military spouses prepare for employment and discover educational and training opportunities.
Spouse Education and Career Opportunities
The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program offers resources and tools related to career exploration, education, and employment readiness. Military spouses can also access free career coaching from certified SECO career coaches. Career coaches work one-on-one with military spouses to help them meet their career goals by providing assistance such as helping with a job search, reviewing a resume, identifying a school or program, and sharing information about how to start a business.
Installation Employment Support Program
Each Service branch offers employment support for military spouses on installations worldwide. Representatives from an employment-support program can share information about local job opportunities, education and training options, and licensing reimbursement support. They may also offer help with developing civilian and federal resumes, providing interview practice, and connecting military spouses to networking events and hiring fairs.
- To locate an employment support program on an installation, please visit: https://installations.militaryonesource.mil
- In the dropdown menu, choose “I’m looking for a program or service.” Next, type in “Spouse Education, Training and Careers” in the “I’m choosing from” text field. Then, filter your selection by installation or zip code.
My Career Advancement Account
The My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) provides up to $4,000 in financial assistance to eligible military spouses to help them earn or maintain a license, certification, or associate degree. Recent federal funding has temporarily expanded eligibility for the MyCAA scholarship.
Most active duty military spouses have at least one child who is under age 18 (69%), and nearly half of those children (46%) are under the age of 6 (Office of People Analytics, 2023). The inability to secure child care was the top stated reason in 2021 for an active duty spouse to be out of the work force (Office of People Analytics, 2023). Some spouses also specified that cost was a limiting factor in finding child care that fits the needs of their family. The following resources can help military spouses find affordable child care in their area.
Child Care Aware of America
Child Care Aware of America (CCAoA) works with a national network of child care resource and referral agencies and other partners and provides information to help families access quality, affordable child care. CCAoA also provides child care assistance for military families through fee assistance programs to help offset the cost between what their family would pay at an installation child care center and the fees charged at a child care center in their community.
Family Child Care Providers
In addition to care provided at installation child-development centers, military spouses may find more flexible options with family child care programs. These programs are operated by certified child care professionals, known as Family Child Care (FCC) providers, who offer care for children up to age 12 in their homes. They are located on or off an installation. FCC providers typically offer flexible schedules, such as full-day, part-day, and school-year care and summer care. In some instances, 24/7 and extended care may be provided.
According to the 2021 ADSS, one in four active duty military spouses experienced low or very low food security (Office of People Analytics, 2023). The survey used the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau financial well-being scale abbreviated questionnaire to measure the financial well-being of military spouses. The results showed that military spouses who had a low-financial well-being score had a high likelihood of experiencing food insecurity. To combat food insecurity, military spouses may be able to qualify for government-funded food programs, access food banks for immediate needs, and seek the support of a financial counselor to maximize their family’s income. These resources are outlined below.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children
Participants in this program receive monthly checks or vouchers to purchase identified foods to supplement their diets with specific nutrients. Foods include infant cereal, adult cereal, fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, canned fish, soy-based beverages, tofu, fruits, vegetables, baby foods, and whole-wheat bread. In addition, the foods listed in the program may include infant formula.
- Eligibility Requirements: https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-eligibility-requirements
- Program Contacts: https://www.fns.usda.gov/program-contacts/wic
Military OneSource Community Resource Finder
- Use the Community Resource Finder tool to find food banks and community food resources organized by state.
Free Financial Counseling
Each military Service branch offers free and confidential financial support to Service members and their families. Support is available through classes on topics such as saving and investing, debt reduction, and understanding your credit score. Certified financial counselors may also be available to meet with military spouses one-on-one to assist them with establishing or reviewing budgets, analyzing spending habits, and setting financial goals.
- To find financial counseling support on an installation, please search here: https://installations.militaryonesource.mil
- In the dropdown menu, choose “I’m looking for a program or service.” Then, type in “Personal Financial Management Services” in the “I’m choosing from” text field. Next, filter by installation or zip code.
- Contact Military OneSource to locate a financial counselor who may be able to provide virtual support by calling 800-342-9647.
USDA Meals for Kids Site Finder (Summer Site Finder)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides free summer meals for children up to age 18 in communities across the United States. The site-finder website will update in May 2023 and will list summer meal sites, directions, hours of operation, and contact information.
The 2021 ADSS found that most military spouses were satisfied with their marriage (81%); however, support for their Service member to stay on active duty has waned from previous years (Office of People Analytics, 2023). The survey also found that more military spouses sought counseling services than in previous years. Counseling may help families cope with the challenges of military life. The programs listed below can help military spouses improve their family’s overall well-being and prepare for their family’s life after they leave the military.
Military Spouse Transition Program
The Military Spouse Transition Program (MySTeP) is designed to support and encourage military spouses throughout their Service member’s time in the military. The information, tools, and programs highlighted in MySTeP connect military spouses with resources to help them navigate military life at every stage of their Service member’s career and prepare their family for life after transitioning out of the military.
Thrive Universal Parent Education Programs
Thrive programs offer developmentally age-appropriate, universal, parent-education programs in a web-based format. These programs are designed to empower parents and caregivers as they nurture children from the prenatal period until 18 years of age. Each self-paced parent-education program delivers knowledge, skills, and strategies that intend to bolster positive parenting practices, enhance stress management, and promote child physical health and well-being. Thrive parent-education programs are available online to military and civilian parents and caregivers at no cost.
Military and Family Life Counseling Program
The Military and Family Life Counseling Program (MFLC) offers free, short-term, confidential, non-medical counseling to Service members and their families. Licensed MFLC counselors are available for one-on-one, couple, or group sessions to help military families cope with issues such as stress, challenges related to moving, dealing with deployments and separation, relationship matters, and grief. Counselors are available by appointment, and sometimes on a walk-in basis, at select installation Military and Family Support Centers.
- To locate an MFLC, call or visit an installation Military and Family Support Center. Centers can be found by doing a geographical search at: https://installations.militaryonesource.mil/
- In the dropdown menu, choose “I’m looking for a program or service.” Then, type in “Family Center” in the “I’m choosing from” text field. Next, filter by installation or zip code.
Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. (2021, May). Food security and military families [Literature Review]. Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State.
Defense Logistics Agency. (2017, May 12). Military spouse appreciation day.https://www.dla.mil/About-DLA/News/News-Article-View/Article/1181132/military-spouse-appreciation-day/
Military OneSource (n.d.) Military and family life counseling – The essentials.https://www.militaryonesource.mil/non-medical-counseling/military-and-family-life-counseling/military-and-family-life-counseling-the-essentials/
Office of People Analytics. (2023). 2021 survey of active duty spouses (2021 ADSS).https://www.militaryonesource.mil/data-research-and-statistics/survey-findings/2021-spouses-survey/
United States Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense forMilitary Community and Family Policy. (2021). 2021 Demographics: Profile of the military community. https://www.militaryonesource.mil/data-research-and-statistics/military-community-demographics/2021-demographics-profile/
United States Department of Labor. (2023, March). Labor force status of women & men. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/wb/data/widget