By Frank Ahrens | November 11, 2009; Washington Post Staff and Ticker Column Author
Washington Post Coverage Economy Watch of the Financial Crisis
November 6,20 news is that U.S. joblessness is now in double digits, at 10.2 percent.
It’s a mixed bag for veterans seeking jobs when returning from active duty, but especially tough for vets of what the government calls Gulf War II — the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere since 2001.
Vets enjoy some advantages, such as preferential hiring and added points on their applications for federal jobs. At the same time, many carry significant challenges, including physical and mental disabilities suffered in combat. (And not to mention homelessness.)
The first thing we need to do is try to get a handle on unemployment among veterans. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) breaks down joblessness among veterans into eras, based on the wars they served in.
In October 2009 the overall rate of unemployment for all vets was 8.1 percent, according to the BLS — actually lower than the national unemployment rate.
But, older veterans who are entrenched in the labor force skew that number. The numbers for younger vets is higher.
Breaking down the BLS data:
— Unemployment among vets of WWII, Korea and Vietnam: 7.6 percent, up from 4 percent in October 2008.
— Unemployment among vets of Gulf War I (1990-91): 6.1 percent, up from 5.2 percent this time last year.
— Unemployment among vets of Gulf War II (post-2001 conflicts): 11.6 percent, up from 8 percent this time last year.
If you dig a little deeper into the data on Gulf War II vets, the employment news gets grimmer.
According to BLS data from all of 2008, which came out in March of 2009:
— Unemployment among 18-to-24-year-old male Gulf War II vets was 13.9 percent. Since the end of 2008, national unemployment has shot up from 7.2 percent to today’s 10.2 percent. So you can safely guess young male vet unemployment is up over 15 percent.
— Unemployment among 18-to-24-year-old female Gulf War vets was 15.1 percent. Adding in the rise in unemployment over the past year, and that number is probably closing in on 20 percent.
Enlisted vets of Gulf War I are now in their late ’30s and early ’40s (officers, slightly older) and many have moved into jobs with the government and private contractors whose work has carried on to Gulf War II.
Enlisted vets of Gulf War II, however, are in their mid-to-late ’20s, many without college degrees, and many with disabilities and already face challenges finding jobs. Couple that with the Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and rising unemployment and you’ve got a bad recipe for trying to find work once a tour of duty is done.
What kind of jobs are vets getting when they return from active duty? According to BLS data on the employment situation for vets in 2008, the answer is two-fold: government and manufacturing.
Among all vets in 2008, 20 percent were employed by the government. Coming in second was manufacturing, at about 14 percent of all vets.
By gender, there is a much higher percentage of female vets (30 percent of all Gulf War II) work for the government, as compared to male vets of Gulf War II working for the government (23 percent). The male vets have largely migrated to manufacturing jobs. Which, by the way, have vaporized over the past year.
Given that government jobs can provide a soft landing for returning vets, where can they look for resources for help?
On November 9, 2009 the White House launched a new veterans employment initiative, designed to “transform the federal government into the model employer of America’s veterans” by creating a Council on Veterans Employment. You can read a complete copy of this initiative at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-obama-launches-major-veterans-employment-initiative.
The new initiative “establishes a Veterans Employment Program office within most federal agencies,” the White House release says. “These offices will be responsible for helping veterans identify employment opportunities within those federal agencies, providing feedback to veterans about their employment application status, and helping veterans recently employed by these agencies adjust to civilian life and a workplace culture often different than military service.”
The Veterans Administration offers a career search site on its Web site, at http://www4.va.gov/jobs/career_search.asp.
One hurdle facing vets, however, is that trying to get a federal job is not easy. And that’s where people like Kathryn Troutman come in. Troutman runs a business called The Resume Place, which helps federal job seekers write effective resumes. Her website can be found at http://www.resume-place.com.
Many federal jobs require lengthy resumes and essays. Troutman has just launched a page aimed at vets, which you can see by clicking here. She’s giving away copies of her “Military To Federal Career Guide” book and showing samples of veterans’ resumes, a free service she plans to continue indefinitely at http://www.resume-place.com/military-and-veterans, there is a cost for the postage, so have a credit or debit care available.
Officers fare better in the civilian job market, Troutman says, because they can translate their managerial experience to non-military settings. But finding a job is especially hard for young enlisted vets, Troutman says.
“Most of them went into the military without hardly ever looking for a job before,” she says. “When they get out, they’ve never written a resume, never looked for a job. It’s kind of like they’ve landed on a new planet.”
Further, she says, “the work they did in Iraq has nothing to do with the work here. They simply cannot figure out how to repackage themselves to get back into civilian life.”
The best hope for most vets, Troutman says, is government work. Enlisted vets get points added to their applications — five points for having served, 10 points for have been injured — that can help push their resume to the top of the pile.
Bottom line, as we remember veterans today: Nobody drafted these vets. They enlisted by their own choice. They have given a service to this country — often times, at great personal expense — and the country owes them a solid shot at a good job when they re-enter civilian life.