According to a recent survey, a majority of military family members do not feel that they belong in their local civilian communities. This means that less than half of military families that live in our neighborhoods, shop at our malls, and attend our places of worship feel at home with us.
Why is this the case?
Perhaps it is because of one of the staples of military life – regular mandated relocation. Members of our military often have little to no say in where they live or how often they move, something they do an estimated 10 times more than civilian families. Nevertheless, they choose to sacrifice their desires and expectations for the good of our country.
Anyone who has moved will readily admit that it is rarely an easy task. Along with the logistics of relocating from one area of the country to another, families grapple with leaving friends, schools, and communities they are familiar with for the unknown.
Additionally, even though military families move, on average, once every three years, the effects of compulsory relocation are felt yearly.
Morgan Kistler, a mother of three and wife to a member of the Coast Guard, quickly learned that “during those three to four years when your family is planted, everyone else around you is not.” Every year, children and parents alike repeat the painful season of goodbyes, regardless of whether or not they are the ones leaving.
Clearly, military families face struggles that many families do not. Here in Alabama, we host roughly 8,700 active duty members of our nation’s military and their families.
In a state that rightfully respects and reveres our military, one would expect our laws to reflect an intentional attempt to ease the burden of relocation on these families. Unfortunately, there are sections of our code in which that is not true.
If we want to ease the burden of relocation on military families, Alabama should reform its occupational licensing laws.
In the survey cited previously, 77% of military spouses said that having two incomes is “vitally important” to their family’s well-being. 52% of those same spouses, however, did not earn any income. A good portion of the blame for this disparity lies in the difficulties of getting state-sanctioned licenses to work.
When military families move, the occupational licenses of spouses do not always transfer. Many states require spouses with licenses from other states to jump through a variety of hoops and pay a collection of fees, a process that takes a considerable amount of time and discourages entrance into the workforce.
This session, Alabama lawmakers are considering legislation that would require licensing boards to recognize professional licenses of military spouses from other states, assuming the licensing criteria is similar or greater than Alabama requirements.
For military spouses whose state license does not meet Alabama requirements, boards would be required to provide temporary licenses and allow spouses to work while they complete the requirements for full licensure.
Furthermore, military families would not bear the burden of licensing fees.
As entering the workforce inherently increases connection and interaction with the community, these are meaningful changes that should be supported by all who back our military.
Although we cannot remove every challenge military families face, we must eradicate the state’s contribution to these challenges. Eliminating barriers and making it less complicated for spouses to enter the civilian Alabama workforce will promote greater integration, helping military families feel like they belong to their communities, even if for only a short time.