The Ground Truth on Veterans’ Unemployment

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Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Army Col. Shawn Phelps seeks work at a Los Angeles job fair Mar. 20 as he prepares to leave the service.

Have you heard the good news?

Turns out the veterans’ employment crisis is over, or didn’t happen, or really isn’t that bad…either way, there’s nothing to see here. Let’s just forget the record high new veteran unemployment over the last few years or the fact that it’s still on average two points higher than the national average.

Overall, it’s true; the unemployment numbers are getting better for everyone. But better isn’t good enough. No matter how you spin it, the truth remains that for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the unemployment rate is unacceptable.

You could argue that the new veteran unemployment rate is high because they are a younger demographic, and young people tend to have more trouble finding a job across the board. That’s an interesting point, but the rate for new young veterans is still worse than the rates of young non-veterans.

For new veterans aged 18-24, the unemployment rate averaged 20.4% in 2012, more than five percentage points higher than the average among non-veterans aged 18-24. Beyond the numbers, critics fail to acknowledge that while of the same age, young veterans are entering the workforce with far more skills and experience than their civilian peers. Logically, they should be employed at higher rates, not lower.

But what about older veterans? An article last week here on Battleland indicated that the new veteran employment situation improved with age, noting, for instance, that the unemployment rate for new veterans aged 45-54 was merely 2.4%. At best, this is an incomplete understanding of the new veteran employment situation. At worst, it’s a complete mischaracterization of the facts.

This 2.4% statistic comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly release for February 2013. These monthly rates, particularly in sliced into demographic subsets, are prone to wild swings from month to month because they are drawn from small survey samples. For instance, the rate among this same group was 7.5% in January of 2013, just one month before. In December 2012, it was 10%. Using the 2.4% statistic to indicate success for the 45-54 age group is misleading.

The annual numbers, based on a much larger sample size, are more reliable.

So, let’s take a look. In 2012, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans between the ages of 45 and 54 was 7.7%, more than a percentage point higher than the average among non-veterans between 45 and 54, which was 6.2%. No matter how you cut the data, the fact remains that despite the technical, leadership and entrepreneurial skills a veteran gains in service, today’s generation of veterans is facing unemployment rates higher on average than their civilian peers.

A period of unemployment could seem like a natural part of the transition from military service to a civilian career.

In January of 2013, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America surveyed our membership. In that snapshot of over 4,000 new vets, 16% said that they were unemployed. Of our members that are unemployed, 33.8% have been unemployed for longer than a year. More than 17% have been unemployed for more than two years. These data seem to indicate that the unemployment problem is about more than a period of transition to rest and spend time with family.

Although the numbers are bad, they don’t tell the whole story. The real problem lies in the systemic challenges that cause higher rates of unemployment for our veterans.

Today’s business leaders don’t understand the value that veterans bring to the table.

This is one of the first generations of business leaders that largely didn’t serve in the military, which poses real cultural barriers to understanding military skills and experience. In a June 2012 report, the Center for a New American Security noted that one of the main barriers to hiring veterans, from the perspective of businesses, is that they struggle to understand how military skills translate to increasing the bottom line.

This CNAS finding mirrors what our members tell us about their experience. In a 2012 survey of new veterans with Prudential, Inc. 60% of veterans reported that translating their military service to the civilian job market was a significant challenge.

In addition, there remain legal barriers that prevent veterans from doing the work that they did in the military. Many veterans return home ready to continue the jobs that they did in the military in the civilian sector, only to find that they need to re-train to do the job they’ve been doing, in order to meet the requirements for a civilian license or certification. While Congress and local officials have been working to break this barrier, it still remains a significant challenge to veteran employment today in many sectors.

Some veterans leave the military with unrealistic expectations of their prospects in the job market. Our study with Prudential revealed that just 66% of new veterans received employment resources during their transition. This situation is improving thanks to a restructuring of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and new laws that make TAP mandatory for all units.

This week, on the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, IAVA is Storming the Hill. In addition to calling for an end to the VA backlog, we are asking Congress to pass a bill from Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, that standardizes TAP and ensures that all service members can take advantage of specialized training in employment and entrepreneurship.

Is veteran employment in a better place than it was two years ago? Yes. Hard work by Congress, the veteran community, the Administration and the private sector is starting to pay off. But, better isn’t great. Until we address these systemic problems, our veterans are still one economic downturn away from returning to record high unemployment.

Tom Tarantino left the Army as a captain in 2007 after a decade in uniform, including a combat tour in Iraq. He is the chief policy officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

11 comments
angrylieutenant
angrylieutenant

I'm a 1st Lieutenant who just came back from a deployment i have a bachelors degree but no real job experience because i have had either a deployment or other military training. I live in San Francisco, CA which is ridiculously expensive, and i can't find a decent job compared to people who have done less than half of the things i have done in my career. 

Larry343
Larry343

I have been through what many vets commenting below have experienced and if I can offer any advice I would say pick the best thing you do did in the military and then find a career in the civilian world that is like it and then intensely focus on it. Be prepared to move around some. I did and it was the best move I ever made. I was a aircraft mechanic in the Air Force and I was at my best when I drove a truck around a flight line managing aircraft and moving people around. I now work as a controller for a oil company and I use the same exact skills I learned in the service everyday at work. Best of luck to all of you who have comment. Hang in there and keep trying and you will be okay. Larry

DanielD
DanielD

I have been out since Nov. 20, 2011. I have yet to have anyone even call me back. Not even fast food like McDonald's, who advertise on t.v. that they hire vets will hire me. When I call these places to check on my status.........I get the non hiring manager or the person I need to talk to is not there.  I am about to make a sign with my resume and stand at busy intersections and see if that works. 

JK0710
JK0710

I have been out of the service since 1995 & have applied for 8 US gov't positions, all of which I was well qualified! As a disabled veteran, it is upsetting to find the person selected for the position was "not even a veteran" themselves!

LaurenWilliams
LaurenWilliams

I was released from a good job late in 2010. Since then, I have been bouncing from temp job to temp job. I do not get call backs on applications submitted. I am currently working this temp job for 8 bucks an hour, 28 hours a week. Can you guys in Washington live on that? I can't rent an apartment, buy anything (sometimes including meals) on that. Most of it goes in my gas tank to get me back and forth to work. See any problems here? I am over 60, I served during the Viet Nam era, and I am still as independent as I was then. However, that independence is being stolen away. I hate leaning on anyone, when I can do it for myself, but folks are less likely to hire someone of age, or someone who knows how to discipline as well as are disciplined themselves. These (veterans) are the folks who are more likely to be whistle blowers, as well as less likely to be the fall-guy to an unscrupulous boss. Hmm. I guess I just answered my own question... not too many honest, decent companies out there anymore. If you are (honest and decent) and you have taken offense to my tirade, HIRE A VET!!!!!

fcozamarripa
fcozamarripa

Its been a long time and Congress and DAV, American Legion, and other groups still have their blinders on, even after so many meetings and hearings about veterans unemployment.   I retired from the Army with a PhD, and for 17 years I could not break the code to get in to government work.  When I finally did in 2001, I got in at the bottom of the rung.  Later I learned the basic reason why veterans get selected readily, especially when they are disabled. SURE THEY GET SELECTED AS THE TOP CANDIDATES FOR A GOV. JOB, BUT THEY DO NOT GET HIRED!!!!!

Get this.  The system is rigged so that all their veteran points get them in front of the hiring lists, but the Government offices that do the final selection always promote the people inside their offices or sections, their friends, first.  So if you make the top selected individual, it does not mean that you will be hired.  The government only plays with our hopes and drops us after playing this stupid hiring game.  NO ONE CARES OR MOST ARE IGNORANT OF THIS REALITY.

yeomandroidify
yeomandroidify

I was at this even in March and not a single employer contacted me save for an employment referral agency to have me work a minimum wage job with inconsistent hours and no benefits. We are people too and need to feed our families and pay for our rent and health care. I am still very angry that nobody from the US Chamber of Commerce contacted me about my grievance based on giving the impression that employers were there at the fair to interview and hire on-the-spot. None of that came to fruition. It's especially frustrating after I drove 50 miles to the event all dressed up for an interview to only see very few people dressed for the interview. More aggravating was the fact of being referred to fill out applications (which I could have done at home). I submitted several resumes and filled out the applications as was requested and NOBODY has contacted me since. I even tried the 1,000 jobs event and was pretty discouraged with that event. What I did notice is that several YouTube videos for these events show veterans who did get hired--however, most were officers and very few if any were enlisted people. So it starts to make sense that these events are really catered towards officers and not enlisted people who really are the ones who need the jobs in the first place. The whole Heroes to Hire, 1,000 Jobs, etc. seems to be a sham.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

The ground truth on unemployment is that (1) the government numbers are unreliable and (2) the situation is worse than reported.

The data being reported are estimates, not exact counts,  taken from a monthly telephone Census Bureau survey.  A monthly survey of 60,000 occupied households is undertaken by the Bureau of the Census which is then used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to estimate the employment, unemployment, and labor force status of the entire population.

 The respondents interviewed are never directly asked if they were "employed," "unemployed," "in the labor force," or "not in the labor force" during the reference week. Rather, the respondents are asked specific questions that are then used by the chief number crunchers at the BLS to determine employment status. 

No telephone? No count. And don't forget that if you leave the military you can draw unemployment but you aren't counted as unemployed. If you want to work full time but you can only find part time work you aren't unemployed. If you use up all of your unemployment benefits you cease to be unemployed and become a discouraged worker. If you graduate from college or trade school and can't find a job take heart because you're not unemployed. You have to have had a job before you can be counted as not having one. See? Isn't that simple? The actual unemployment rate is estimated to be between 17.5 percent and 22 percent, depending on your area.

xavierjaime2
xavierjaime2


If you think Robert`s story is nice..., last month my friends bro brought home  5372 just sitting there seventeen hours a week from home and the're best friend's sister`s neighbour did this for eight months and brought in more than  5372 part-time on- line. applie the steps here, pie21.ℂOM


ewhulbert
ewhulbert

Good article Tom, much better than the article Brandon Friedman published last week.  

ChadRobinson
ChadRobinson

@DanielD Brother, I feel your pain. I and my office help numerous veterans to gain employment everyday; not in JOBS but into CAREERS. If possible, I would love to link up with you and perhaps discuss how you can begin to live the life you deserve to live. We have a veteran's preference. That means, my office and I place in the deepest regards our veterans and what they have done for our country. If you are interested look me up on FaceBook @ Chad Robinson

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