New Vets Drawn to Public Service Even as Public Sector Shrinks
Posted by Moran Banai on February 3
The newest generation of veterans has incredible potential. Yet for the past few years, while the national employment situation has improved, the job situation for this New Greatest Generation has soured. The government and private sectors have both worked to change this reality, offering hope that the situation will improve in the coming years. Several big challenges remain and one particularly has gotten little attention: new veterans’ preference to look for work in the government, even at a time when the public sector is shrinking and the private sector adds jobs.
This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the January 2012 unemployment numbers. For Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans, the unemployment rate was 9.1 percent, down from 13.1 percent in December 2011, but still half a percentage point higher than the national average.
The national unemployment rate has dropped for the past several months and hit 8.3 percent in January, a three-year low; the unemployment rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans, however, continues to trend upwards. The combination of plans to cut the size of the overall military force, the return of all troops from Iraq, and an expectation that the combat mission will be over in Afghanistan by the end of 2013, means there is a larger problem on the horizon. There were already 178,000 unemployed Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans looking for work last month. As more service members separate from the military, this problem is likely to get worse.
Overlaid on the soon to be increased number of veterans is the fact that new veterans are more likely than civilians or veterans of other generations to work in government. In 2011, 27 percent of Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans worked in federal, state or local governments. This rate compares to 14 percent of civilians, 17 percent of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans, and 26 percent of First Gulf War veterans. While the rest of the economy produced 1.9 million jobs in 2011, the government sector lost about 270,000 jobs. Local and state governments and the U.S. Postal Service were particularly hard-hit.
There are different reasons why new veterans might seek out government work. Veterans have already shown a desire to serve their country, and may see government employment as the continuation of that service. Many of the skill sets veterans developed in the military are easily transferable to certain government sectors, like law enforcement, international development, technology and logistics. Veterans also tend to have security clearances that make it easier to transition into the government. Moreover, the federal government has established hiring preference for veterans, which further incentivizes seeking out work in the public sector.
Just this morning, President Obama announced a Job Corps initiative, that alongside other provisions, will help new veterans find jobs with the government. The initiative will incentivize local governments to give hiring preference to new veterans when hiring police and first responders, and create jobs for veterans to work on conservation projects. Right after the President's announcement, IAVA unveiled a job commitment in Indianapolis with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Coach Cowher, US Chamber of Commerce, PeopleScout and several Fortune 500 companies to boost recruiting and hire 10,000 new veterans.
When asked about how these jobs will be sustained once federal government funding ends, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar pointed out that many federal agencies expect to see a significant portion of their workforce retire in the coming years. This expected retirement should provide more opportunity for the veterans who find work through this initiative to remain in government.
The administration’s efforts to incentivize the hiring of new veterans are critical. Nevertheless, at a time when the public sector is shrinking as the rest of the economy begins to gain strength, it is important to expose veterans to other opportunities to leverage the skills they learned in the military in the private and non-profit sectors. The administration’s Job Corps initiative, for example, includes a small business component that promises to do this by tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit of veterans. In 2007, veterans owned 9 percent of American businesses, although veterans make up less than 7 percent of the U.S. population. Helping new veterans start small businesses will spur economic growth, while also helping them find employment in what is still a tight market.
Another key tool for preparing veterans for the employment landscape of the twenty-first century is education. The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers most veterans an opportunity to go to school and receive the skills and training that will help them transition successfully into the workforce. More than half a million veterans are already using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. It is critical that this benefit be protected in a time of fiscal tightening and that these veterans not only go to school, but also thrive on campus and beyond.
The economic situation in the United States is improving, yet new veterans seem to be lagging behind most other Americans in finding employment. As policies and programs are put in place to solve this problem, it is important to consider the tendency of this new generation of veterans to seek to continue their public service and think about how to channel this desire at a time of shrinking public sector rolls.
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