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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

VA Report: 23% of Young Vets Unemployed, Up from 10% in 2000

From Yochi J. Dreazen at the Wall Street Journal:

A new government report paints a dire picture of the employment prospects of returning military veterans, concluding that young veterans earn less and have a harder time finding work than do civilians in the same age group.

The report prepared for the Veterans Affairs Department found that the percentage of veterans not in the labor force -- because they couldn't find jobs, stopped looking for work, or went back to school -- jumped to 23% in 2005 from 10% in 2000. Half of the young veterans -- ages 20 to 24 -- with steady employment earned less than $25,000 per year, it found.

Young veterans "face career challenges when transitioning from the military service to the civilian workforce," and suffer from higher unemployment than their civilian peers, the report said. "Transitioning into civilian life and the workforce requires help and guidance," the report concluded. "The federal government might consider reevaluating or refining how it serves...these returning young service members to ensure a successful transition process."

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


The new government report, which hasn't been publicly released, highlights some of the challenges facing veterans seeking stable employment in the civilian world. The Army has long pitched military service as a way for recruits to gain valuable work experience, but the report found that most of the returning veterans were unable to find civilian jobs that matched their previous military occupations.

The only exceptions were the veterans working for private-security firms such as Blackwater or in the maintenance and repair fields, and the report suggested that the government steer veterans to those types of jobs. "Perhaps it would be helpful to promote jobs...that match their military skills and in which their military skills can be applied," the report said.

Many of the government's efforts to help returning veterans find work appear to be falling short, the report found. The Veterans Affairs Department offers educational-assistance programs for young veterans, but the report said the initiatives had little impact on the employment status or salaries of the former military personnel.

Mark Zdechlik of Minnesota Public Radio filed an informative report on the problem of veterans' unemployment last week:

[Iraq veteran Dustin] Shugren now lives with his older brother north of the Twin Cities in a basement apartment of St. Francis home. He said even after a year and a half, it's still weird being back home.

"It's different because you come back, they put you in general public and you have no control over nothing," he said. "People look different. There ain't no uniforms. There ain't nothing. When I got home with my best friends, it's like wow, dude, you really need to get a haircut."

Shugren's hair is buzz-cut military short. He is tall and thin.

At a veterans job fair in November of 2007, he was optimistic about finding a full time job. He said then he was looking for something more stable than the seasonal lawn care he'd been doing. "It's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel," he said. "You're almost guaranteed to get one. So hopefully I'll find a good job."

But Shugren's military experience welding and repairing weapons has not caught the interest of potential employers in Minnesota. He has not found a job. And he's well aware now is a difficult time to be out looking.

"Everybody asks for experience. Well, I didn't really have much experience in being a machinist," he said. "I don't really have much experience doing this or doing that. Well, I know how to work on guns, but it's hard to get that job because they want you to be gunsmith certified. So I'd have to go back to school and redo all of that. I could go to a welding job. I do have experience in that. I've applied at CAT, and I didn't get that job. But that's alright."

Shugren said he's really not even looking for a job right now. His seasonal lawn work picks up in April. He said he will restart his job search in the fall.

The most recent U.S. Department of Labor statistics show the unemployment rate among veterans is slightly lower than that of the general population, a little less than 4 percent last year. But for young vets, like Shugren, the rate is nearly 12 percent, well above non-veterans in the same age 20 to 24 age group. The labor department says it's concerned about the high unemployment rate among young vets and that it's working to bring it down.

The director of veterans employment programs in Minnesota, Jim Finley, said more job placement services are available to veterans in Minnesota than to non-veterans. But Finley said not all of the vets who need help know that.

"One of my biggest concerns is the fact that there are people out there that don't know that we exist," he said. "There are people out there, I talk to them all the time, who tell me I didn't even know about you guys. And because of the fact that we're a government agency we don't spent a lot of money on marketing. So we worry about that." ...

"It almost seems like nobody really support the military or even the soldier alone," he said. "If more companies can just try working for the soldier, doing stuff for the soldier, it would be a lot better. Nobody really cares any more these days and it's kind of bad I think."

Shugren plans to move back into his parents' home so he can save some money. He said his unit could be deployed again as soon as next year. He said wouldn't mind going back to Iraq.

Computerworld's Jaikumar Vijayan spoke with Oliver North regarding the issue of employing returning veterans in the IT sector:

In a tight job market, U.S. companies might want to consider Iraq war veterans for information security jobs, retired Lt. Col. Oliver North said today in a keynote address at the Infosec World 2008 security conference and trade show being held here this week.

North, a former member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration, noted the rising unemployment rate in general and the jobless rate among returning Iraqi war veterans in particular. One way to address the situation is to consider giving employment in the technology sector to returning veterans because they embody many of the core values and skills that companies need to compete in a rapidly changing global marketplace, North said.

"There are 225,000 young Americans with combat experience looking for good jobs," North said. "These are the brightest and the best of this generation," North said. "They certainly deserve to be employed by companies like yours," he said to conference attendees.

Now, I was never much of an Ollie North fan, but I can't argue with him here. But it's not just the veterans who are having a difficult time finding work. Many military wives struggle with unique problems stunningly spelled out by military wife Laura Dempsey in a special Washington Post op-ed. It is so rich with information and insight that I will quote heavily from it:

The U.S. Army recently announced that it would pay captains up to $35,000 in retention bonuses to stem the tide of junior officers leaving the Army, in part because of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bonuses may temporarily retain a few captains, but the problem will continue well into the future unless policymakers address a more fundamental issue: A military lifestyle makes the pursuit of a career nearly untenable for military wives.

I know the challenges that Army wives face. I've been a lawyer and an Army wife for 10 years. In that period, I've moved seven times. I've taken four different bar exams and held five different jobs. My income has been taxed in at least five states. I think it's safe to say that military wives like me face career obstacles that few civilian wives could appreciate.

Wives attending college when service members transfer must choose between paying exorbitant out-of-state tuition if they stay behind or losing a substantial number of credits if they move. Although many smaller and online universities admirably volunteer to accept transferred credits for military wives, most of the country's larger public universities and almost none of the top-tier private schools do.

Working wives face long waiting lists for child care and a lack of well-paying jobs. If they find well-paying jobs, their income is taxed unfairly at the state and local level. Entrepreneurial wives must adapt to different state and local laws with each move. In some cases, they must dissolve and reincorporate their businesses (and pay the requisite fees).

Professionally licensed wives such as teachers (yes, and lawyers) are hit hard. Most licensed professions are regulated by states. Therefore, wives must test for, and pay for, new licenses with each move. In many professions, spouses get no credit for experience in other states, yet they must continue to pay annual fees to each state in which they are licensed.

The process gets prohibitively expensive, forcing spouses to either pay hundreds of dollars per year to maintain licenses in multiple states (which is desirable, since the family may eventually be assigned back to that state) or relinquish the licenses they worked so hard to obtain.

Preparation for licensure exams can cost thousands of dollars, but because many military families don't own homes and therefore don't itemize deductions on their tax returns, they get no money back for their efforts. As a result, families that would be upwardly mobile are repeatedly handicapped.

Unemployment among military wives is nearly four times the national average. There is a $12,000 wage gap between college-educated civilian and military wives. A military wife with a postgraduate degree has 20 percent less chance of finding full-time employment than a civilian wife.

A few targeted efforts by the federal government would make a great difference. Lawmakers should pursue regulatory and licensure exemptions and tax incentives to ease the burden on entrepreneurial and working wives, or, better yet, exempt military families from local and state taxes; improve child-care options for military families; allow family members to pay in-state tuition regardless of the service member's duty station; require public universities to accept more transferred credits from spouses who choose to move with service members; and allocate more positions on military installations to spouses so that they can pursue careers wherever they are stationed.

Simply allowing spouses to claim a permanent state of residence, as members of the military do, would alleviate some of the bureaucratic hassles of frequent moves. There is no doubt that Americans, liberal and conservative alike, place a high value on the service that the military provides. American policy should reflect this and modernize, removing the barriers placed between military families and a higher quality of life.

In a related piece:

Noting that military officers really don’t mean it when they ask for volunteers, a Colorado Springs lawmaker wants to change state law and allow spouses of members in the military to collect unemployment insurance when they are forced to relocate.

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said those spouses and their employers are forced to pay for unemployment insurance, but can’t collect it if they are transferred. She said in the military, rejecting a transfer because of financial hardship isn’t an option. “They’re forced to relocate. They’re forced to realize that once you’re in the military, they own you,” Stephens said.

The measure (House Bill 1180) removes a limitation that a transfer must be during time of war or armed conflict and for medical-related purposes in order for an individual who relocates with an active-duty military spouse to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits after paying into the system for a year or more.

The bill is expected to be heard in the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

A few resources can be found at the U.S. Department of Labor veterans resources page and the Training, Education and Career Transition page. has a fabulous collection of links that will direct you to just about every available veterans employment resource out there.

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