Second lady Karen Pence, the mother of a Marine, is pledging her assistance to increase employment opportunities for military spouses, whom she praised as critical to military readiness.

“Military spouse employment is a very important aspect of a strong and resilient military family,” she said during a Tuesday speech at the national meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in Washington, D.C. “Our spouses these days, they don't just want a job, they want a career. They work very hard to get their degrees and they want to be able to use them and they want to be fulfilled.”

Since taking on her role as second lady, Pence said she has traveled to military installations across the country and overseas to hear directly from military spouses. She's also been kept up to date on spouse concerns through meetings with MOAA and other military advocacy organizations.

Military spouses' overall satisfaction can influence a servicemember's decision to stay in service, she said. It also enhances readiness when the servicemember can focus on the mission and not issues at home. 

[RELATED: Microsoft Launches Technology Training Program for Military Spouses]

“We know that spouses are the backbone of military readiness,” she said. “We know that if military spouses aren't happy then military servicemembers are going to get out of service sooner, and we don't want that to happen. So it's important to take care of our spouses and their children so that our servicemembers can stay focused on their mission and remain ready to fight to protect our freedoms.”

Military spouses have an unemployment rate four times higher than average, according to a survey conducted by Hiring Our Heroes. The survey found about 16 percent of military spouses are unemployed. ''

Credentialing Concerns
Spouses have identified licensing issues as the biggest challenge to them starting or keeping a career, Pence said, calling the issue “challenging.”

The process for switching licenses for some professions from state to state can be time consuming and expensive, she said, and many spouses have to start over every two to three years thanks to military moves.

About 37 percent of military spouses work in professions that require state licensure, Pence said, referencing a study by the Department of Defense. She touted language in the National Defense Authorization Act that provides up to $500 to families for spouses to obtain licenses in their profession after a PCS move.

Pence also said the Department of Defense-State Liaison Office is developing a way to expedite licensing for military spouses.

Government Positions
In the meantime, the federal government is pushing companies to hire more military spouses.

In May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that gives preference to military spouses for government jobs.

Following the executive order, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched its Hiring 100,000 Military Spouses initiative. The three-year campaign will raise awareness of military spouse unemployment and encourage employers to commit to hiring military spouses.

A coalition of several major businesses has signed on to be part of the initiative, including Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks.

Watch Pence's full speech, and the full AUSA spouse employment and financial readiness forum at which she appeared, here.

Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached at amandad@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.