ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Today, we continue our series about military families in the wake of the Great Recession. We're going to meet three women who have a few things in common. They're military spouses, and they've struggled to find work.
STEPHANIE DAVIS: We kind of never know...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DAVIS: ...where we're going or when we're going to be going.
JONNA MASTROPASQUA: It was kind of a no-brainer for us to go with his career over mine.
KATIE SAVANT: They weren't valuing the skills that I could bring to them. It was very difficult.
SIEGEL: NPR's Tamara Keith tells the story of these three women, and the poor job prospects for many military spouses.
TAMARA KEITH: In this economy, who in their right mind would quit their job and move to a new city where they don't have any contacts? Well, that's exactly what thousands of military spouses do each year. They don't have a choice.
Stephanie Davis thought she had picked a field that would be portable: teaching.
DAVIS: And I really loved it. I was at a great school, great district.
KEITH: That is until last year when her husband, an Army officer, got orders to transfer to Fort Hood in Texas.
DAVIS: They let me out of my contract. They understood, obviously, as a military spouse that we kind of never know...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DAVIS: ...where we're going or when we're going to be going. So they were very cordial about it.
KEITH: They arrived in Texas in October. Davis was convinced she'd be working by December. After all, she's a special-ed teacher with two master's degrees. What she wasn't expecting was the wave of state and local government layoffs that has swept the nation, including Texas.
DAVIS: When I moved here, within - I think it was about a month is when they published in the paper that they were cutting like, 60 to 70 jobs in the Kileen School District alone.
KEITH: Davis has applied for teacher's aid positions and jobs at Barnes and Noble, Target, Starbucks but nothing. She's done some substitute teaching. Nine months later, though, Davis is still looking for a steady job. And she's not alone.
The national unemployment rate is above 9 percent. But Robert Gordon, head of military community and family policy at the Pentagon, says it's much higher for military spouses.
ROBERT GORDON: We have a high unemployment rate. At the end of the day, it's a 26 percent unemployment rate. Eighty to 85 percent of our spouses want to work. And there are some spouses who are working who want other sorts of jobs.
KEITH: That 26 percent rate comes from a Defense Department survey conducted late last year. It includes both spouses who are looking for work, and those who want to work but have given up the search.
Jonna Mastropasqua fits into that category.
MASTROPASQUA: Because his job comes with more money and benefits, it was kind of a no-brainer for us to go with his career over mine.
KEITH: Her husband is a Marine based at Camp LeJeune. For a while, she was working at a local community college but with her husband's constant deployments, it didn't work out. Mastropasqua wants to work, but she says there just aren't many options for someone with a master's in women's studies living near Jacksonville, North Carolina.
MASTROPASQUA: And it's not like we can decide as a couple that I can make more, so we can move somewhere else. He's wherever they say that he has to be.
KEITH: For military spouses, the current dismal labor market makes the job hunt harder. But it's never been easy for them to have a career. Katie Savant remembers when her husband was stationed at Camp LeJeune.
SAVANT: Employers were interviewing me based on my husband's job and my husband's career. That was shocking and appalling to me. You know, they weren't valuing the skills that I could bring to them. It was very difficult.
KEITH: Savant ultimately got a job, as a paralegal. Today, she works in government relations for the National Military Family Association, helping other spouses. She says military spouses are, on average, more educated than the general population, but they make less money. There are reasons. The tell-tale holes in the resume, the frequent moves to cities and towns with bases - employers notice.
SAVANT: It's definitely disheartening for the spouse to realize that gosh, I have all these skills and these skills are needed, but no one will hire me. And they won't hire me because I'm a military spouse, because they don't know how long I'm going to be here.
KEITH: These days, with so much competition for just about every job, employers can be picky. Stephanie Davis, the teacher who had to move to Texas, she's up against another obstacle. Different states have different rules. So, she's now trying to get her Texas teaching credential - two tests at a cost of $550. And there likely still won't be a job when she's done.
DAVIS: It almost makes you just kind of want to throw up your hands and say, well, you know, what am I even trying for?
KEITH: Stephanie Davis jokes that by the time she gets her Texas teaching credential, it will be time to move again.
Tamara Keith, NPR News.
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