While Georgia and most of the country are experiencing record prosperity, it would be easy to forget that not all Peach State residents are reaping the benefits of our booming economy. Indeed, specific groups are impaired by disproportionately high unemployment rates, including military spouses. But that seems poised to change. Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, and Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White, have filed legislation to help military spouses reenter the workforce more easily.
“Spouses of active military members face far too many hardships,” says Rep. Clark. “Nationally, their unemployment rate stands at a staggering 16%, and their underemployment rate hovers around 35-40%.” There are several causes of their plight, including that military members relocate 10 times as frequently as civilians, often with little notice. This simultaneously uproots their spouses, who must search for new work following each move. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, military spouses often must grapple with state professional licensing regimes in order to obtain the government’s permission to work.
Between 35 and 50% of military spouses work in vocations that require an occupational license. In Georgia, well over 100 different jobs require such licenses. Each one comes with various requirements that prospective licensees must meet before they are allowed to work. This can include pursuing further education, participating in additional training, and completing other exams. And even though a licensee might have decades of untarnished experience and another state may have deemed them capable of working in their profession, their licenses rarely transfer from state to state.
As a result, following military transfers, military spouses must traverse the costly and time-consuming occupational licensing labyrinth, making it harder for them to rejoin the workforce. In fact, nearly a quarter of military spouses claim that occupational licensure is their greatest barrier to employment. And they can ill-afford this hindrance. After all, members of the military are largely paid paltry sums.
The military spouse issue is no small problem, either. There are around 61,000 active military personnel living in Georgia, and roughly half of them are married — meaning that occupational licensing burdens could theoretically harm tens of thousands of spouses in the Peach State.
“Georgia shouldn’t create hurdles that keep military spouses out of the workforce. Instead, lawmakers should responsibly reduce barriers and make it easier for these men and women to provide for their families,” says Rep. Clark, whose district covers Robins Air Force Base. His bill, HB 914, would do just this. It would require Georgia’s licensing boards to provide expedited licensure by endorsement to military spouses with out-of-state licenses in good standing, so long as they meet certain standards and have relocated here due to a military transfer. And why not? Other states have already implemented similar models.
The truth is that military spouses and their families deserve better. That’s why it’s critical for the Legislature to consider Rep. Clark’s and Sen. Thompson’s bills.