The average American could be forgiven for assuming that there is an employment crisis among veterans today. That is because most of the reporting on the issue is simply wrong. This past December, veteran unemployment was 7.0 percent. For civilians, it was 7.5 percent. Veterans are more employed than civilians, period.
So, why do the most reputable names in news often misstate the facts? On January 15, the New York Times reported, "...the unemployment rate for veterans was 10.8 percent."
On the same date, Today.com reported the same figure, but then corrected it to state, "...10.8 percent [unemployment] for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars..." Unfortunately, this is still incorrect. 10.8 percent is the unemployment rate for Gulf War II Era veterans--better known as post-9/11 veterans--about half of whom have not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
On January 18, the Fiscal Times stated, "...the current 10.8% unemployment rate for veterans (according to the Department of Veterans Affairs) is higher than the already worrisome national average of 7.9%."
Even a cursory web search uncovers major news outlets incorrectly reporting that veterans are less employed than civilians.
Thankfully, Mark Thompson, writing for TIME's Battleland Blog, put it properly:
"While the unemployment rate for all vets is lower than the national average, that's not true for post-9/11 vets. As of December, 10.8% of them were jobless, well above the 7.8% national unemployment rate. "
Approximately five million Americans have served in the military since 2001. About 1.5 million are still on active duty. They are employed, per se, but omitted from employment statistics. Another 1.5 million are in the National Guard or Reserves--still serving, but also eligible to be part of the civilian workforce.
This past December the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a population of 2.5 million post-9/11 veterans. With an 82.5% workforce participation rate, 2.1 million post-9/11 veterans are employed or seeking employment.
This group does have a higher unemployment rate than civilians. But as any good statistician will tell you: before jumping to conclusions, we must analyze the variables. What makes this population different?
As the media points out, they have all served in the military, and therefore many assume that this is the factor that correlates to their higher unemployment. But, there are other factors.
For example, post-9/11 veterans are younger, on average, than the general population. Younger populations tend to be less employed.
Overall, veterans are more highly educated than civilians. However, because of their time in service, many veterans finish higher education later in life. So, in a snap shot, post-9/11 veterans are likely less educated than civilians of the same age--especially in their 20s and 30s. Less educated populations tend to be less employed.
On the back of an envelope, when controlling for age and education, post-9/11 veteran unemployment numbers are not significantly different than rates of similar civilians.
Historically, the veteran population is more employed than civilians. Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, veterans' unemployment has been lower than the national average every year. In fact, because veterans make up almost 8% of the workforce (and nearly 10% of the adult population), veterans help bring overall unemployment rates down.
In the long run, veterans are highly sought after employees that are acquiring and keeping jobs more often than everyone else.
For the 226,000 post-9/11 veterans who were unemployed in December, many are in a short-term transition phase. But, it is true that some veterans find the transition to the civilian workforce a challenge. So, what will help them?
The most important thing we can do is accurately report the facts. The message to employers should be: "In the long run, veterans have a high rate of employment, because they are good workers and companies want to hire them."
Recently, WalMart announced that it would hire any recently separated veteran who wanted a job. Predictions are that this could result in up to 100,000 jobs for veterans. It was this announcement that elicited many of the articles with misstated facts.
The irony is that WalMart seems to be one company that really gets it. Hiring veterans is good for their bottom line. Veterans are valuable in the workplace, and they will give WalMart a distinct competitive advantage.
Historically, companies have known that hiring veterans is good for business. The companies that can act on this idea today are going to benefit.
Military service does not replace industry experience or college education; rather, it enhances a resume, adding to existing credentials. This has been true for as long as the country has had veterans.
Veterans aren't asking for sympathy or charity. They are asking our workforce--and the media--to be more in tune to the facts, and to understand the assets that veterans bring with them from their military service.