By Rory Brosius, Advisor for Military Families
If you’ve ever met me, you’ve likely heard me sing the praises of my “hometown.” Okay, so San Diego isn’t really my hometown, but it’s honestly the place I’ve lived the longest in my entire life. With beaches, burritos, and nearly constant sunshine, I can easily say that this town is my happy place. It didn’t always feel that way, though.
In 2007, I was living in Virginia working as a grant administrator at a large university. I loved my job. Knowing that the budgets we wrote and the proposals we packaged were creating opportunities for cutting-edge research was incredibly fulfilling.
When I married a Marine in late 2007, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. My sister had been serving for nearly twenty years in the Navy at that point, and another sister had been an Army spouse for fifteen years. Days after our wedding, my husband received orders to report to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in just a few months. I felt prepared. I expected the move across the country and felt knowledgeable enough about my spouse’s transition from a relatively stable garrison job to an operational role in an infantry unit.
What I did not expect was the difficulty I’d face finding work as a young professional. And, I mean, any work. As the days, weeks and months passed, I spent hours each day sending out resumes, making phone calls, looking up job boards, and calling temp agencies. I was panicked; I hadn’t made many friends, our savings were quickly dwindling, and I couldn’t find a job. On top of that, Matt was about to deploy to Iraq.
Like many spouses, I didn’t just want to work, I needed to work. It was overwhelming, and I found no joy living in San Diego. I even contemplated moving back to DC where I could work and feel like I was contributing to our household. We were pinching pennies to make ends meet. This left me wondering how other families, those with children, or those without savings to fall back on, or those had been experiencing situations like this for years, made it work.
I knew employers worried about hiring someone who might leave in two or three years, but I finally landed a job. I was thrilled, but, as soon as I got comfortable, it was time to move again. We moved four times in seven years and unfortunately, I found the job search to be just as challenging nearly everywhere we lived, but I did feel lucky to find something in most locations.
Eleven years later, it’s disheartening that this experience is still the norm. Military spouses face a daunting employment landscape. According to a Hiring our Heroes survey, 16 percent are unemployed, while even more are employed in positions that are below their skill or education levels. In survey’s military families also say that a spouse’s inability to find suitable career opportunities can be a deciding factor when it is time for the service member to decide whether to stay in or get out of the military.
At the Biden Foundation, we’ve partnered with the team at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative to tackle military spouse unemployment and under-employment. In August, Hiring Our Heroes team came to San Diego for a number of exciting veteran and military spouse employment events. I was thrilled to be there when San Diego was named the newest Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone (MSEEZ). This new designation means that the community, along with local employers and partners, is committing to be a part of a coalition to create better economic opportunities for military families.
My love for San Diego is not just rooted in the sun, sand, and food that I referenced earlier—I love that, too—but, it’s also rooted in the people who make it great. It’s the employers like the ones I worked for over the years who create flexible jobs for military spouses, the civilian neighbors who invite the new military family next door over for dinner, the elected officials who work across the aisle to support veteran and military issues, the schools and organizations that welcome our military kids with open arms, and the small towns that adopt military units during deployments. By becoming Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones, San Diego, Olympia, WA., Spokane, WA., San Antonio, TX., Tampa, FL., and Hampton Roads, VA., have demonstrated that they want to make life just a little easier for military families who call those communities home.
While military families might not have the opportunity to live in our cities and towns for very long, they are an integral part of our economy, our schools, and our country. Military life can be hard, but with the help of committed partners, we know that we can ease some of the burdens they face. I’m proud of my community for stepping up in this way, and excited for the future generations of military spouses who will get to experience the beauty, but most importantly, the fabulous career opportunities that a community like San Diego can offer. And, burritos. Did I mention burritos?
Signing Off from Sunny San Diego,