As February Unemployment Drops, Hiring Veterans Must Remain Critical Priority
Posted by Moran Banai on March 9
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released unemployment numbers for February this morning and the numbers were surprisingly encouraging for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans. While the national unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 from January to February, the unemployment rate for new veterans dropped from an already relatively low 9.1 percent in January to 7.6 percent - and was lower than the national average for the first time since August 2010. There are many possibilities for this dramatic fall, including the aging of the new veteran population and the national push to hire veterans. It is also possible that because of the small sample size BLS uses, this is just an anomaly that will not continue in the next few months.
Age has been a defining factor in new veteran unemployment during the past few years. Although Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans of all ages had higher unemployment rates than the national average in 2011, younger veterans were hit hardest. In 2011, the average unemployment rate for new veterans aged 18-24 was 30.2 percent, almost twice the national average of 16.3 percent. Such a difference implies that there are reasons that new vets are having trouble finding work that are different from their civilian peers.
Education likely plays a key role, as the youngest veterans are less likely than civilians to have a college degree. For all Americans, higher education means a better chance at employment. On average in 2011, Americans with less than a high school diploma had a 16.6 percent unemployment rate, compared to an 11 percent rate for high school graduates, 8.6 percent for those with some college or an associate degree and 4.5 percent for college graduates. Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans with a high school degree had a 16.4 percent unemployment rate in 2011; if they had part of a college education, the rate went down to 13.4 percent, with an Associate degree the rate was 11.9 percent, and with a full college education (undergraduate or higher) the rate was 6.3 percent.
According to the BLS numbers, there were fewer veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 in February, compared to January and the 2011 average, and more between the ages of 25 to 34 and 35 to 44. Older new veterans have a lower unemployment rate and are more likely to have pursued some college education. This difference might account for at least some of the drop in the unemployment rate.
Since the unemployment rate dropped for new vets of all ages, though at different rates, there is likely another reason for at least part of the drop in the rate. During the past year, the private and public sectors have come together to hire veterans. Joining Forces, a White House initiative, has made this one of its top priorities, asking employers to hire veterans and military spouses. The private sector has also stepped up in a significant way. A coalition currently made up of 16 major companies, including AT&T, Delta and Verizon, and led by JP Morgan Chase has pledged to hire 100,000 transitioning service members and veterans by 2020. Many of these companies have already hired a considerable amount of vets. The White House and private sector efforts are working in tandem. With an average number of 234,000 veterans unemployed in 2011, companies that hire thousands of veterans can make a big difference to unemployment rates.
The important thing to look at with BLS numbers is trends—are the numbers going down for months at a time? Are they going up and down? Where is the trend line going? At the moment, the trend for new veteran unemployment is still going up. It will take a few months to know if the factors mentioned above—the changing demographics of new veterans, the national push to hire veterans—are having a real impact along with other potential factors, or whether this month’s rate was just a blip that will not repeat itself.
IAVA will continue to track the numbers and, hopefully, the percent of new veterans with jobs is actually going up and will continue to go up. Whatever the outcome, with so many more new vets expected to enter the job market, continued efforts to hire veterans must remain a critical priority for our country.
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