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Lower jobless rate improves outlook for vets

Lower jobless rate improves outlook for vets
© iStock, The Hill photo illustration

Veterans are benefiting from the record-breaking stretch of prosperity that began after the 2008 recession, federal data shows.

While U.S. military personnel often face a slew of challenges when returning to civilian life, veterans have enjoyed lower levels of unemployment and poverty relative to their nonmilitary counterparts throughout the economic recovery.

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Those changes are also partly the result of a renewed effort in Washington to help returning veterans transfer their skills to the private sector.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE in 2017 signed a bipartisan expansion of GI Bill benefits for veterans and issued an executive order in August exempting roughly 50,000 disabled veterans from federal student loan payments.

As firms across the country struggle to find workers with adequate technical or skills-based training, veterans have drawn on skills honed throughout their service to navigate a tight labor market.

Major corporations, encouraged by policymakers, have also ramped up programs to recruit veterans for jobs and link employers to qualified candidates returning from military service.

Google last year launched a platform where veterans can find jobs catered to their unique skill sets by conducting a search based on their military occupational specialty code.  

While some veterans still struggle with debilitating medical issues that could keep them from holding down a job, a strong and stable economy has helped a significant majority find their footing after deployment.

“I think it’s important to note that most veterans come back, reacclimate, go back to work and do quite well in the civilian life,” said Barbara Banaszynski, a senior vice president of Volunteers of America (VOA) who oversees the faith-based nonprofit’s programs for veterans.

The U.S. unemployment rate sunk to near-record lows in 2018 as the country capped off a decade of uninterrupted economic growth. 

While the unemployment rate for the U.S. as a whole sunk as low as 3.7 percent last year, the country’s 19.2 million veterans enjoyed a jobless rate of 3.5 percent, according to data released in March by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Female veterans also boasted an unemployment rate of just 3 percent, while the jobless rate for non-veteran women bounced between 3.6 percent to 4 percent throughout 2018.

The labor force participation rate for veterans and non-veterans were roughly even.

Though wide swaths of the country have struggled to reap the benefits of the post-recession recovery, returning service members have benefited from high demand for high-skilled workers. 

U.S. corporations have leaned on veterans to fill gaps left in the workforce by an aging population, a shortage of skilled-trade workers and inadequate training opportunities in struggling areas.

Banaszynski said VOA has had the most success steering veterans toward jobs in the transportation, logistics and construction sectors, adding that they’ve received “exceedingly wonderful outreach” from building-trades unions. She also cited efforts by Home Depot and Bank of America focused on recruiting veterans. 

The edge for female veterans over male veterans in employment is due in part to the younger average age of female veterans. Even so, male veterans enjoyed higher median earnings and average incomes than female veterans, reflecting broader pay disparities between genders.

Despite those systemic disparities, male and female veterans both experience higher average earnings and lower rates of poverty than non-veterans, according to federal data.

Male veterans who worked full-time year-round in 2017 had median earnings of $50,986, while the median earnings for non-veteran men were roughly $40,000. Female veterans had median earnings of $40,939, while non-veteran women earned a median $29,900 in 2017, according to BLS data.

Higher levels of earnings for veterans, coupled with federal benefits and aid programs for returning military personnel, helped keep the veteran poverty rate at 6.4 percent, below the national non-veteran rate of 10.9 percent in 2017.

Still, there are a number of persistent issues for veterans making the adjustment to post-military life.

While veterans fare better economically than the rest of the civilian population as a whole, thousands of service members return home to precarious financial situations or face fraud targeting former military personnel.

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Veterans are 9 percent more likely to carry a credit card balance and face late payment fees and are 40 percent more likely to owe more on their homes than what the home is worth, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the financial services sector’s private-sector watchdog.

Veterans have also faced challenges dealing with debt collectors and loan servicers while attempting to pay down medical and student debts. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has received a gradually rising number of complaints from veterans and current service members, spiking by 47 percent from 2016 to 2017.

The complaints are primarily over issues with inaccurate credit reports, credit cards and debt payments, some of which could have devastating impacts for veterans and service members.

“We regularly hear from servicemembers who are worried that incorrect information on their credit reports will put their security clearance, duty status, potential promotion, or even military career in jeopardy,” wrote the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs in its 2018 annual report.

“The military lifecycle can be physically and emotionally strenuous at times for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. Adding financial stresses to that life of service can be a burden too heavy to bear,” the agency added.

Advocates for veterans say that while more can be done to protect veterans financially, the low unemployment rate is reason to cheer.

“The majority of those veterans, with a little bit of concentrated help, are able to resume lives in the community, hold jobs and stand and move forward,” said Banaszynski.