At a family get-together over the holidays, as we bowed our heads before dinner, a cousin offered a prayer for the safe return of troops now abroad — and jobs for them once they re-enter civilian life.
Her sons are in the military, currently stationed stateside, but the headlines she has seen clearly have her worried: “Veterans’ new battle front: job market”; “Sour job market leaves many ex-soldiers without work”; “Bleak outlook for veterans returning home.” Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent for veterans aged 18 and older, a bit better than the 8.3 percent seen for the group in December 2010. For the non-veteran population in the same age range, the rate stood at 8.1 percent last month.
So why the scary headlines? Because of the jobless rate for the 2.34 million so-called Gulf War II-era veterans, the cohort under the age of 35 that has served in the military since 9/11. Their unemployment rate was 13.1 percent in December, up from 11.7 percent a year earlier.
For this younger group of veterans, the military may be the only full-time “job” they have known. And between “the often-difficult transition to civilian life and the struggling American economy, hundreds of thousands of new veterans are facing an uncertain economic future,” says a report from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a New York City-based nonprofit that lobbies on their behalf.
One common concern is getting employers to understand the skills these veterans acquired in the military and seeing the civilian application, says the group. But a veterans’ employment representative from the state Department of Labor offered this tip at a job fair workshop in Colonie earlier this week: speak the language of the employer. Forget the military jargon because it won’t be understood, said Frank Julian, who ran through a list of common resume mistakes — such as misspellings — for a handful of veterans who attended the workshop.
Veterans receive priority services in all state employment and training programs under law. At New York’s One-Stop Career Centers, operated by the Department of Labor, veterans can receive help in preparing resumes and assessing career options, get information on skilled-occupation apprenticeships and secure job referrals — including having a labor representative contact a prospective employer on their behalf.
New help is coming from the federal government, too. In November, President Obama signed into law the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, which, among other provisions, authorizes tax credits of up to $5,600 for businesses that hire veterans who have been looking for work for more than six months. (Up to $9,600 is offered for hiring unemployed veterans who have a service-connected disability.) The new law also makes mandatory the existing Transition Assistance Program, which provides resume-writing workshops and career counseling to service members moving into civilian jobs. And the law requires that the U.S. Department of Labor figure out how to translate military skills and training to the civilian sector, and make it easier for veterans to get licenses and certifications based on those skills.
In the long run, says a University of Chicago study of young veterans, service members two years out of uniform are more likely to be employed than their civilian counterparts, in jobs offering benefits such as pensions and health insurance. What’s more, they’re also likely to be earning more than others in their age group.
Which makes me think the outlook for my cousin’s sons could be looking brighter after all.
Marlene Kennedy , a longtime business editor in the Capital Region, can be reached by email at [email protected]