The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s initiative Hiring Our Heroes announced San Antonio as the country’s first Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone on Tuesday.
Business, civic and military communities in the area will partner to create an employment network that targets military spouses. Stakeholders include USAA, Joint Base San Antonio and the Military Officers Association of America.
Military spouses face an uphill battle for employment, with frequent moves disrupting their linear progression in the workplace and making it harder for them to keep jobs.
“Military spouses in the San Antonio area and around the country represent a highly educated and skilled pool of applicants who, despite their skills, continue to face significant rates of unemployment and underemployment,” said Eric Eversole, president of Hiring Our Heroes and vice president at the Chamber.
Elizabeth O’Brien, director of Hiring Our Heroes’ military spouse program, said local need is hard to measure, in part because military families move so regularly.
“It really varies installation to installation,” O’Brien said. “Parts of Joint Base San Antonio are (training focused), so often the tour is shorter than normal. Some spouses aren’t actually moving to the area. So it’s difficult to put a specific number on it.”
Other statistics indicate that military spouses nationwide are unemployed at a rate of 16 percent, four times the rate of their civilian counterparts.
O’Brien said hiring managers should take a broader view of military candidates, one that puts spouses front and center.
"You know, we hear a lot about military-friendly, veteran-friendly companies. It needs to be military ready,” she said. “Part of that is getting military spouses out of the fine print. When I go to your website, it shouldn't take two, three, four clicks to find out that you're hiring military spouses."
City Councilman Greg Brockhouse challenged local businesses to actively recruit military spouses.
"We at the City Council, the mayor, myself and all my peers are going to ask you to open your eyes and give that one extra special shot to somebody who's already serving their country. And that's a military spouse,”
Because San Antonio’s Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone is so new, its partnering organizations are still figuring out how to measure success, according to Richard Perez, president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
“That’s going to be a challenge, because we don’t know who is hiring,” he said. “So, while we can encourage and guide, we really don’t have a database to track participation and hiring practices. We’re relying on businesses to self-report to us. So that’s probably the best we’re going to do right now.”
When asked whether local businesses are being incentivized to hire military spouses, Perez said there are efforts underway.
“There’s no incentive now,” he said. “But we’ve talked about, at the federal level, some kind of a tax credit or something that could motivate a business or entice them on the front end. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to crack that nut yet, but we’re working on it.”
The Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone program grew out of a 2017 study by the Chamber, which found that the majority of employed military spouses said that having dual incomes was vitally important to their family, though only 50 percent of the military families surveyed reported having dual-income status. The study also found that the resulting financial strain can influence service members in their decision to stay in the military.
Seven more zones will be announced in the coming months.
Carson Frame can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @carson_frame