New Veteran Unemployment Rises to 10.9% in August
Posted by Maura McCarthy on September 7
This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the unemployment numbers for August. While the national unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 percent—a mere .2 percentage points from July—the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans increased to 10.9 percent from 8.9 percent in July. Once again, our newest veterans face higher unemployment rates than the national average. However, monthly numbers must be evaluated with a discerning eye: The BLS sample size is small and monthly fluctuations are to be expected. It is more helpful to compare rates for the same time last year, and in August 2011, Gulf War II-era veterans had an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent. The picture is not encouraging, and our newest veterans continue to face higher unemployment rates than the national average. The economy added a disappointing 96,000 jobs—34,000 less than expected. Of particular concern to veterans is the loss of 7,000 federal, state and local government jobs, as these are segments in which veterans commonly find work after service.
Monthly unemployment numbers are just one piece of a larger employment puzzle. The August release reminds us that there is critical work to be done to change the systemic issues that contribute to levels of young veteran unemployment that remain consistently higher than the national average. The transition from military service to civilian life is already a challenge; the nation must work together to remove unnecessary barriers to employment that make that journey home even more daunting. Initial steps have been taken with bills like the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, but more work and leadership is needed. We must also strengthen USERRA to protect the jobs of our Guard and Reservists so that when they return home, they return home employed.
While veterans know that the skills they gain through military service are valuable in the civilian workforce, they are still struggling to convey that value to employers. In a survey IAVA conducted with Prudential Financial Inc. in early 2012 on veteran employment challenges, this disconnect led 60 percent of new veteran respondents to identify translating military experience as a serious challenge.
The VOW to Hire Heroes Act is a critical step in this direction. The VOW Act requires the Department of Labor, DoD and VA to conduct a joint study translating military skills to civilian equivalents and determining how to make civilian certifications and licenses easier for veterans to obtain. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act also makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) mandatory for separating servicemembers, but making TAP mandatory is only part of the battle. Requiring servicemembers to participate in TAP is only part of the solution. TAP must be tailored to meet the individual needs of servicemembers, taking into account MOS, disability status, and education. To ensure that TAP delivers the transition support needed, Congress needs to pass the TAP Modernization Act of 2012 (S. 2246/H.R. 4051), which would allow the Departments of Labor and Defense to offer TAP off-base and would provide veterans the opportunity to take TAP later in their career.
The nation has invested billions of dollars in training and educating our armed forces and we can’t let it go to waste. Veterans, the economy, and the nation will suffer if we don’t turn this trend line around. With an estimated one million veterans expected to enter the civilian workforce in the next five years, the government, private sector, and groups like IAVA must fight to ensure that veterans have the resources needed to thrive in civilian life. Hiring veterans is the right thing to do by any standard you choose.
Maura McCarthy serves as IAVA's Research Director in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @MoMcCarthy.
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