This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released some encouraging jobs numbers—the private sector added 212,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent. These numbers are seasonally adjusted to control for extra holiday hiring, and the drop in the unemployment level was not caused primarily by people dropping out of the labor force. So this acceleration is a promising sign, though of course a strong jobs recovery remains elusive.
But one group has been left out of this slight rise—and in fact, has seen its employment numbers decelerate at a scary pace. What the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “Gulf War–era II veterans”—those who served from September 2001 to the present—had an unemployment rate of 13.1 percent in December. In December 2010, that number was 11.7.
That means there are 248,000 unemployed veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and much worse, there’s an additional 442,000 recent veterans who are no longer in the labor force. The New York Times estimated last month that about 30 percent of veterans aged 20 to 24 are unemployed, a steep rise from the rate of 21 percent in mid-2010.
These numbers are also bound to increase in the coming years, since 1 million veterans are expected to join the workforce by 2016 as the wars wind down and soldiers finish their enlistments.
Fortunately, Washington has actually taken some action in recent months to address the unemployment crisis for veterans. In fact, the first part of Obama’s jobs bill to pass (and really the only part, unless you count the recent two-month payroll tax extension) is a provision to give employers tax credits for hiring veterans who have been out of work for more than six months, and to provide additional education and jobs retraining programs. (Though unfortunately, the program was paid for by higher mortgage rates guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.)
That’s a good start—but additional measures may be needed to address the metastasizing unemployment crisis among those who sacrificed quite a bit for the government already in the past decade.