Monday, September 12, 2011

Missing the Target by a Few Degrees: Veterans Unemployment

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kasey Close/Released)

It is often noted in the media that veteran’s unemployment is higher than the overall unemployment rate (1). Unemployment in veterans is not necessarily the problem the popular media would have society believe. Veterans face many unique challenges that civilians will never have to worry about such as PTSD, disabling injuries, and multiple deployments that vary in length. Unemployment is not a problem that any veteran should come to after serving their country.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks monthly unemployment data in the current population survey (CPS) and this includes veterans. Veterans are examined in the context of unemployment so there is an accurate comparison to the general population. This data does show that unemployment for veterans is slightly higher in the last few months for veterans ages 18-24 that recently separated from the service (2). For both civilians and veterans ages 18-24 the unemployment rate has doubled since 2007 (2). So current young veterans may have a disadvantage when first leaving the service, does this mean that veterans are destined to be chronically unemployed?

When you examine all veterans and compare the unemployment rate the general population the data actually shows the overall unemployment rate to be LOWER for veterans (3). It appears that there is an initial difference in unemployment but a small one for returning veterans. One effective way to combat the difference in unemployment rates for returning troops is with a college degree or certificate.

For those with a either an associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree the unemployment rate is always lower than those without a degree (4). The good news is that veterans attend college in larger numbers than the general population. Although, veterans do not receive as many bachelor’s degrees as civilians (5). This is an important point because a bachelor’s degree is essentially the tipping point where lifetime earning s increase dramatically and unemployment is always lower than the general population.

A second important reason is that veterans will make more money. The value of a college degree has even been shown to affect those still in the service. A study by Garcia, Joy, & Reese (1998) found that sailors get promoted more than 40% faster than those who did not attend college while in the Navy. For returning troops’ earning a bachelor’s degree is one more tool they have in their arsenal to combat unemployment and earn more money.

There is currently legislation pending that could address the issue of veteran unemployment by strengthening the military’s transition program and proving more training before troops leave the service but in the meantime veterans need to educate themselves and take action. Empire State College for example offers a college transition class at the upper level that lets veterans and servicemembers explore transitions and career options.


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