The unemployment rate among military veterans who served after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks remains stubbornly higher than that of the general population, especially for the youngest men to leave the service, according to a congressional report released Tuesday.
The Memorial Day-themed report cites new federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data and suggests that one major reason for the high unemployment is that post-9/11 veterans were more likely to be employed in industries that were hit hardest by the recession.
"The skills and work experience those veterans receive while on active duty make them better matched to civilian employment in certain private-sector industries," said the report, written by the staff of the ranking Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. "However, this distribution of employment left recent veterans vulnerable to the massive job losses of the Great Recession."
Before the recession began in December 2007, post-9/11 veterans were more likely than nonveterans to be employed in mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities, information and professional and business services, all industries that lost a significant number of jobs in 2008 and 2009. These veterans were far less likely to be employed in education and health services, the only major sector in which payrolls expanded during the recession, the report said.
The data, which weren't seasonally adjusted, show April's unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 10.9 percent, above the unemployment rate of 7.7 percent for all veterans and 8.5 percent for non-veterans. The numbers are almost unchanged from the 2010 unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans, which was 11.1 percent.
April also continued the trend of high unemployment for male veterans who are 18 to 24. It was 26.9 percent, well above the 17.3 percent unemployment rate in 2010 for non-veterans of the same age group.
A spokeswoman for the non-profit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said that difficulty finding a job is the top concern of the organization's 90,000 members.
"It's the No. 1 issue for this community," spokeswoman Chrissy Stevens said. "We polled our members (and asked), `What is your biggest challenge?' And it was employment challenges, by far and away."
The tough job market has compounded the other challenges that veterans face, she said. The group's members report that they are having difficulty getting private-sector employers to recognize how military experience, such as building schools, translates to their companies. Meanwhile, combat medics and others with skills they learned in the military are finding that employers still need them to get certificates, licenses or training that are otherwise required of anybody else without those skills, Stevens said.
Her members also tell her that employers worry about their mental stability or that they'll be called away on future deployments, she said. The organization worries that returning veterans who don't promptly get on the path to success could spiral into a lifetime of addiction or homelessness that has been associated with Vietnam War-era veterans, she said.
"I think a lot of people believe that unless we get ahead of this issue now, it's going to be another Vietnam," she said.
The organization has pressed for passage in Congress of a bill that would create tax incentives to hire veterans and another bill, named The Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, that would encourage more federal government hiring of departing service members, expand job searching and training help available to them and improve job placement cooperation with private-sector employers.
Nearly 2.5 million men and women have left active duty in the Armed Forces since September 2001. Eighty percent of them were men, and 83 percent were aged 25 to 54, the report said.
The report also warns that job training and employment programs for veterans must be improved to avoid a repeat of the experience of Vietnam War-era veterans, whose labor force participation rate has dropped significantly faster in the past decade than that of nonveterans. In 2000, the rates were similar for the two groups, it said.