Unemployment Among Veterans Highest in Five Years

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More than 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were unemployed in January, far higher than the national jobless rate and the highest since the government began collecting data on veterans in 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said this past Friday.

That rate could go even higher if the U.S. military begins winding down operations in Afghanistan and a flood of veterans return home looking for work, said John Vogel, a recruiting consultant at HireVeterans.com , a job board for U.S. Veterans.  “The good news is that many companies in select industries are reaching out to hire veterans” said Vogel “and that’s a good sign and a positive step in the right direction. But we need to do more, much more”.

“These numbers need to be a wake up call for all Americans because there is really no excuse for this,” said Todd Bowers, deputy executive director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The government said 15.2 percent of veterans were out of work in January, up from 12.6 percent the same month a year ago. This compares with a overall U.S. unemployment rate of 9.0 percent seasonally adjusted and 9.8 percent without adjustment. The government data for veterans is only presented without adjusting for seasonal differences.

Bowers, a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves, said the increase is because multiple deployments have become standard operating procedure for a stretched military.

“You’ve got folks who are active duty, national guard, and the reserves who have done three, four, five, six deployments and that makes it extremely difficult to come home… and jump back into the workforce for a brief period of time and head out again,” he said.

The 31-year-old Bowers was deployed four times and had to step back from active reserve so he could get his career back on track.

“I had just been jumping back and forth from Iraq to Afghanistan and then coming back and trying to get my feet into the workplace.”

Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, chair of the Veterans Affairs committee, introduced legislation in April of last year to give veterans extra assistance after veteran unemployment reached double digits.

The proposed legislation would create and expand federal programs to equip and retool veterans for working in the civilian world and expand job assistance for soldiers going through the transition.

Economic Policy Institute Economist Heidi Sheirholz said that most military veterans are young men with less education, and jobs for that group have been especially hard hit during the recession.

She said the rate may also be higher because of a decline in construction jobs during the winter. And she said the rate may also reflect a sharp rise of 10 percent in the number of veterans over the past year.

Some fear that with the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan slimming down, and reductions in the defense budget, a growing number of veterans will hit the job market.

“That’s going to be a tremendous amount of people jumping back into the workforce sort of unwillingly,” Bowers said.

Those patriotic House Republicans have yet to introduce a serious jobs bill (they’ve been way too busy fighting the culture war and figuring out how to punish women). Maybe they should take a bit of time out from trying to invent legislative chastity belts and spend a little time fixing this.

That’s some thanks for going to war–no thanks. Hopefully some of them are at least able to take advantage of the educational benefits in the GI Bill. And hopefully by the time they get out of school, there will be a job for them. In the meantime, this is a travesty. The utter lack of urgency in our government about unemployment has been baffling and disturbing. Reports like this make it a complete travesty.

If Democrats want to make 2012 better than 2010, they’d better start talking about this, and trying to do something about it, now. Start with a “Jobs for our Warriors” plan, and just watch Republicans try to fight it. It might even end up actually doing some damned good and get people back to work.

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