As missions wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops returning home from battle are facing a struggle of a different sort: finding a job. The unemployment rate for young male veterans is more than triple the overall national unemployment rate, which hit 9.2 percent last month. In the past three months, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average unemployment for male veterans ages 18 to 24 is 28.3 percent.
Multiple factors appear to be at play in keeping many of them out of work, and reversing the trend will require help from all corners: the government, private industry, nonprofits and the veterans themselves. Federal officials have stepped up efforts to connect more veterans to meaningful work, or at least provide them with a better path toward achieving it. The revised GI Bill provides benefits for veterans to further their education and strengthen their career skills.
The Department of Veterans Affairs runs websites advertising job openings and offering career-related counseling, including resume and interview tips. And, as Reuters recently reported, officials say they’re evaluating ways to better inform employers of the specific leadership and technical skills that veterans, from infantrymen to medical technicians, acquire during the course of their service. Those efforts are necessary, but their effect also will be determined by whether veterans take advantage of them.
More, however, is clearly needed, particularly from private-sector employers unwilling to take a hard look at applicants — those who have worn this nation’s uniform and those who haven’t. In recent months, many companies have posted double-digit increases in profit. The strong performance is a result of shedding jobs during the recession and spreading duties across fewer employees, even after the economy began showing signs of improvement.
That strategy has proven stellar for the corporate bottom line and for shareholders. But for nearly everyone else, it has been disastrous. By preventing qualified job-seekers from landing work and a decent wage, it is needlessly suppressing consumer demand and hindering economic recovery. Worse, it’s denying the people who have fought to protect the American Dream from being able to achieve it.