Expert Commentary

Veterans, jobs, wages and unemployment issues: Research roundup

2012 research review of data, studies and trends relating to employment for U.S. veterans, who often face critically high levels of joblessness among certain segments.

The full reintegration of military service members back into society through education, training and civilian employment opportunities is a stated goal of the U.S. government, policy makers and many public and private institutions. Through 2012, the unemployment rate for former service members who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — about 2.6 million men and women — was 9.9%, according to a March 2013 release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate is 7.7% across the entire U.S. population, as of March 2013. For female veterans, who constitute 17% of all post-9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate was 12.5% in 2012. Overall, this means that there remain more than 200,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are considered unemployed.

Generally speaking, the rate of unemployment for veterans of America’s recent wars (often referred to in government reports as “Gulf War era II” veterans) has fallen slightly, but for those who are without jobs, such statistics mean little. Officials and media reports have often referred to “crisis” levels of unemployment among certain segments of the recent veterans population, and many National Guard service members face particular difficulties.

The federal government and Department of Defense have deployed a range of methods to help veterans find and qualify for jobs. The post-9/11 G.I. Bill seeks to facilitate retraining, while the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors work opportunity tax credits pay businesses between $2,400 and $9,600 to hire veterans. These credits, initiated in 2011, were renewed in the January 2013 tax deal. However, financial pressure to find work often bears down quickly on veterans. A 2011 survey of 585 National Guard veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan found that only a third had obtained full-time employment 45 to 60 days after returning to civilian life.

A U.S. Census research brief, “A Snapshot of Our Nation’s Veterans,” notes that veterans across all generations tend to take more jobs in public administration, transportation and manufacturing than does the general civilian population. Veterans own 9% of U.S. businesses —  employing some 5.8 million people — and their median income ($35,367) is higher than that of the U.S. population ($25,605.) A 2012 report from the Center for a New American Security, “Employing America’s Veterans: Perspectives from Business,” provides a detailed look at how companies perceive veteran job applicants and their skill sets.

Veterans often face obstacles to employment as a result of their service in combat; many have both physical and mental disabilities, including PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). A 2010 study in Psychiatric Services found that an estimated 25 percent to 56 percent perhaps half of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans accessing Veteran’s Administration medical services have trouble reintegrating into society and have found “some” to “extreme” difficulty in social functioning within civilian life.

A 2012 study from Ithaca College, “Disability, Employment and Income: Are Iraq/Afghanistan-era U.S. Veterans Unique?” uses 2009-2010 Census data to examine economic and health dynamics for recent veterans. The study finds that recent veterans are different from members of the public — they’re primarily male and younger, and before deployment were healthier than the general population. The veterans subset also has fewer legal or behavioral problems that would disqualify them from enlistment. (Only about one in four young Americans fit all the criteria for military enlistment, the researcher notes.) The researcher seeks therefore to compare recent veterans with a comparable civilian segment to assess labor market outcomes.

The study’s findings include:

  • Recent veterans were sim­ilar to the civilian group “in terms of annual income from wages and salary (on average, $43,370 versus $42,972) and family income ad­justed for number of people in the household (on average $52,038 versus $47,530, but there was no statistically sig­nificant difference between these two amounts).”
  • “The main economic differences between these two samples were their poverty rates, the percentage of the sample receiving service-connected disability compensa­tion, and the amount of income they received from that disability program. The poverty rate for recent veterans is almost half that of the comparison group, 5.1% ver­sus 9.7%. In terms of program participation, 16.4% of recent veterans received service-connected dis­ability compensation in the previous year, at an average of $2,531.”
  • “In terms of broader definitions of disability, recent vet­erans are significantly more likely than the comparison group to identify as having one of the six disabilities listed in the Current Population Survey’s basic monthly survey, 8.3% versus 5.7%.”

The researcher concludes that, while veterans are more likely to have a disability, their incomes are nonetheless similar to those of comparable non-veterans groups. Moreover, “despite these disadvantages, veterans with disabilities are more likely to be working full time, full year and significantly less likely to be in poverty than are other people with disabilities.”

A related 2012 study in Armed Forces & Society, “How Are Iraq/Afghanistan-Era Veterans Faring in the Labor Market?” finds that “Iraq/Afghanistan-era service among the youngest veterans (ages 18-24) was associated with higher earnings and greater odds of being enrolled in school, but also higher odds of unemployment.”

Tags: veterans, economy, research roundup

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