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Military spouses — including those in Tampa Bay — face challenges, silver-linings in job searches amid pandemic

Since at least 2012, military spouses have had an unemployment rate of about 24 percent.

Well before the coronavirus pandemic led to spikes in national unemployment, military spouses have held a consistent unemployment rate of about 24 percent since at least 2012 — seven times the average rate for civilians — according to a new report from the consulting firm Deloitte.

Months into the pandemic, Deloitte researchers identified short-term added difficulties for military spouses looking for jobs, as well as a long-term silver-lining — that employers are more open to remote work, which can benefit spouses who move frequently due to their partner’s military career.

“Companies are going to realize that people are actually able to work from home,” said Kara Greco, a military spouse who moved to Tampa last year with her active-duty Air Force husband.

Greco is one local example of the unique challenges military spouses face in looking for employment and keeping it, in and out of a pandemic.

For about 15 years, Greco worked for Boeing as a staffer and a contractor, mostly in Seattle. Her longest job there involved managing customer accounts and helping to plan the production and delivery of airplanes.

But then the Air Force moved her family to Japan, where restrictions on military family members working left her unemployed for three years.

“I felt like every day that I went to work I made a difference in the job that I did, and then you come to a complete stop to that,” she said. “Emotionally, that’s a very hard journey to accept.”

Kara Greco poses for a portrait where she works inside her Tampa home on Wednesday. Greco started working as a customer service representative for Wayfair almost one year after her husband was transferred from being stationed in Japan to MacDill Air Force Base. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

In May, Greco got a remote job with Wayfair, the online retailer, handling customer product questions and concerns.

That kind of resume gap and shift in industries is not uncommon among military spouses, yet can come across as a red flag for civilian employers, said Jennifer Hadac, director of military and spouse career resources at RecruitMilitary. Hadac is both a U.S. Navy veteran and a military spouse with a husband serving on active duty.

Military spouses like Greco tend to have higher levels of education than their civilian counterparts and adaptable life skills that come with military life, Hadac said, but they face challenges finding employment after relocating.

“We have to move a lot. I mean traditionally you could move every one to three years” with the military, Hadac said.

About 1,600 military spouses are registered in RecruitMilitary’s job board system in Florida, she said. About 36 percent of them have at least an associate’s degree, and most live near Jacksonville or Tampa.

Joe Mariani, one of the authors of the Deloitte report, described Tampa as a place with a strong job market that could benefit from greater connections with military spouses.

Outreach specifically to military spouses has been a growing focus for RecruitMilitary, Hadac said. At a recent virtual career fair in Tampa, about 26 of the 574 registered job seekers self-identified as a military spouse. One of them was Greco, who attended as she continues to search for employment more akin to her past training.

Two job fairs in the Tampa Bay area offered opportunities for people searching for work. EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Some military veterans registered for the event might also be military spouses, Hadac added, who like her try to avoid any employer stigma on spouses by putting their veteran status first.

Unemployment surveys of military spouses are conducted infrequently, Mariani said, so there isn’t enough data to determine the full impact of the pandemic on job opportunities and losses. More consistent, detailed data collection would help to address their unique concerns, he added.

In the short-term, many of the industries that traditionally offer easier entry for spouses relocating into a new community, such as retail, hospitality and social assistance, have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, Mariani said.

Yet in the long-run, with more employers adjusting to remote work, the pandemic could have opened more discussions about how to better employ and retain military spouses on the move.

“If we want to have the military we need for the future — with the tech skills and folks staying in it as a career — we need the spouses to stay in it as well,” Mariani said.

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