Veteran Unemployment: A Stubborn Problem Persists

Posted by Charlotte Webster

A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics had some discouraging findings for military members and veterans: The unemployment rate for those of us who served on active duty at any time since September 2001 was 12.1 percent, compared to the 8.3 percent unemployment rate among all veterans – a figure that roughly paralleled the 2011 unemployment rate as a whole. (As of May 4, 2011, the BLS had just reported a U3 unemployment rate of 8.1 percent – down from 8.3 percent, largely due to hundreds of thousands of workers giving up the job hunt.)

Among young male veterans – those War on Terror era veterans below age 25 – the unemployment rate was devastating: 29.1 percent of them, nearly three in every ten job seekers, were unemployed. This rate is substantially higher than the general rate of unemployment among non-veterans of the same age. These are largely Reservists and National Guardsmen who have been mobilized at least once, as those who enlisted into the active duty components on six-year hitches will still be employed, unless sooner discharged.

A Growing Public Perception Problem

In addition to the employment statistics, we do have some anecdotal evidence that negative stereotypes about combat veterans are becoming more pervasive among the general public. For example, popular TV talk show host and psychology professional Dr. Phil recently aired a show called “From Heroes to Monsters,” in which he referred to veterans struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as “damaged goods” who destroyed marriages and families. (Dr. Phil has since issued an apology and changed the name of the episode to “Heroes in Pain.”)

Additionally, a Democratic state legislator from Louisiana, Representative Stephen Ortego (District 39), expressed reluctance regarding a proposal to extend in-state tuition rates to nonresident armed forces veterans on the State House Floor last week, asking “why do we want to attract veterans?… They have a lot of issues.”

Labor Force Participation Rate

The labor force participation rate – the percentage of people who are actually either working or actively looking for work – is 83.5 percent among post-9/11 era veterans. In contrast, the labor force participation rate nationwide, among all residents, was 63.6 percent, as of May 4th, 2012 – a 30 year low. It was 64 percent as of the end of 2011. So veterans are more active in the job hunt than their non-veteran counterparts, by far.

So what are vetarans trying to make the transition to civilian employment to do with so many statistics stacked against them? There are a few options for finding a new job, and if all else fails, using your military education benefits and going back to school to brush up on skills or get a graduate degree will help your resume stand out from the crowd.

First, turn to your network of friends and colleagues to see if they know of companies who are hiring. The old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know,” really is true. Next, figure out how your military skills might transfer into a civil service job. When you land an interview, be sure to “wow” your potential new employer, send a thank you, and follow-up about the position to stay top-of-mind. Above all, try to maintain a positive attitude, no matter how discouraged you might really feel. Positivity is much more likely to gain help from your friends and impress employers than a negative outlook.

If you’re a veteran who has recently found work, what advice do you have for other vets? Tell us what worked for you in the comments section below.

 

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