Jobless Rate Skyrockets to 15.2% for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans
Posted by Bryan Maxwell on February 20
The unemployment rate for OEF/OIF veterans soared to 15.2 percent in January—the highest rate recorded since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking this data in 2006. This number follows the already staggering 11.5 percent OEF/OIF veteran unemployment rate in 2010, compared to 9.4 percent for the rest of the country. More worrying still is how much worse the situation could get. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in January that he intends to slim down the Army and Marines by 2015. This in addition to the planned drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, will create a flood of new veterans facing serious employment challenges.
President Obama’s announcement of the “Startup America” initiative this week shows the kinds of steps that need to be taken to improve veteran employment. But the message remains clear: we need a coordinated effort to ensure that every returning hero has a job.
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released unemployment data for the first month of 2011. While the unemployment rate decreased slightly to 9.0 percent for the general population, the rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans dramatically increased to 15.2 percent, up from 11.7 percent in December. Veterans make up a small segment of the population so measuring their unemployment rate can be a challenge. Nevertheless, in real numbers, 278,000 Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans were unemployed in January.
Possible explanations for this spike include more OEF/OIF veterans entering the workforce, the winter weather reducing the amount of construction jobs, and the end of winter holiday employment. While these factors may be responsible for the uptick in the January OEF/OIF unemployment rate, these high unemployment numbers continue to trend upward with little relief in sight.
To further complicate matters, Secretary Gates, grappling with the current economic situation, announced in January that the Army and Marine Corps will begin to reduce the size of their forces in 2015. The secretary’s preliminary projections will coincide with scheduled troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and reduce the Army by 27,000 soldiers and the Corps by 15,000 to 20,000 Marines. Without a significant investment in reducing the veteran unemployment rate, both the scheduled drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan in the next few years and the reduction of the Army and the Marines will be a recipe for disaster for veterans.
President Obama’s newly launched “Startup America” initiative is an example of the type of employment program on which the government should be focusing. On Monday, the president launched this new initiative to nurture new start-up businesses and generate job creation. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will administer part of this new program focused on helping veterans launch and maintain their own businesses. According to the latest data from U.S. Census Bureau, veterans of all eras own approximately 2.4 million businesses. Many of these veterans are unaware of various types of assistance available to them such as loans, contracts and counseling sessions.
As part of “Startup America” the VA will establish two new programs to support veterans who want to start businesses. The first program will create a guide of the resources available to veterans launching new businesses. The second program will provide veterans who start new businesses with mentorship and training necessary to successfully sustain their businesses. For more information on these programs and the “Startup America” initiative, click here.
“Startup America” is a good first step by President Obama, but as more service members separate from the military and begin to look for jobs much more must be done. The federal government in partnership with local and state governments and the private sector must take steps to immediately to avert unemployment disaster. They can begin immediately by modernizing the Transition Assistance Program (TAPS) and universally requiring all service members to participate in its civilian employment training; incentivizing the hiring of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans through tax credits; and establishing a set of best practices for hiring and employing veterans that can be disseminated and adopted by all public and private organizations.
Veteran employment is IAVA’s top priority in 2011 and we look forward to engaging in a conversation with President Obama, DOD, VA, and the 112th Congress about opportunities to develop public and private sector programs that encourage veteran employment and connect veterans with tools they need to succeed in the civilian workforce.
For a deeper look at veterans’ employment issues see IAVA’s Issue Report Careers After Combat: Employment and Education Challenges for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
Bryan Maxwell is IAVA's Research Assistant in Washington, D.C. where he contributes to IAVA’s Issue Reports. Bryan received a B.A. in History from University of Virginia in 2004 and also serves as an officer in the Army Reserves.
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