LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The unemployment rate for military spouses is 24 percent, compared to the national unemployment rate of 6 percent. And 25 percent of military spouses are underemployed, which means they’re working lower-paying jobs or jobs that don’t utilize their skill set.
But a new bill in the state legislature would help military spouses, veterans and widows get into the state workforce a lot easier.
It’s called the “Arkansas Occupational Licensing of Uniformed Service Members, Veterans, and Spouses Act of 2021.” Right now, the state honors a reciprocal license in any career field for an active duty service member. This bill, however, will extend that privilege to military spouses, widows and those in the National Guard or Reserves.
Little Rock Air Force Base military spouse Jessica Saum has moved five times since she got married to her husband, Lt. Col Shane Saum.
She knows the challenges that come with licensure in different states.
“You’re going to have to spend more time, you’re going to have to spend more money or resources, just to begin working,” Saum said.
She’s a teacher now, but her first career was in skincare as an esthetician. When Saum moved from South Carolina to Arkansas, she said she needed 150 more clinical hours to transfer her license to the state.
“So, that was an extra expense and time, just to be able to work here in the state,” Saum said.
And after a career switch to education, licensing roadblocks caused Saum to be underemployed.
“I was a teacher’s aide, which doesn’t require a college degree, and I had a Master’s degree,” Saum said.
That’s why Saum said she supports the bill authored by District 29 Republican Senator Ricky Hill.
“We’re just trying to make this easy for Arkansas to be what we consider the most friendly state to our military families out there,” Sen. Hill said.
“We have a lot to contribute to the local community and while it may only be for a couple of years, we can do a lot in those years,” Saum said.
Sen Hill said. the bill was unopposed in the Senate and goes to the House Committee next Tuesday.
It will then go to the House floor for a vote before it hits the Governor’s desk.
Sen. Hill said he doesn’t expect any opposition in the House.
Sen. Hill added that an emergency clause is on this bill because, if passed, the authors of the bill want it to go into effect immediately.