Recent Veterans Find Higher Jobless Rates On Return | KCUR

Recent Veterans Find Higher Jobless Rates On Return

Nov 30, 2011
Originally published on December 1, 2011 1:45 pm

The jobless rate has declined a bit in the past year, but among veterans who have served in conflict since 2003, it is increasing. The unemployment rate for vets serving since the Iraq war began has risen 1.5 percentage points to more than 12 percent in the past year.

Many veterans say they face a tougher job market than civilians. Tom Tarantino spent a decade in the military, where he served in Iraq and led a platoon. But when he separated from the military in 2007, he spent nearly a year looking for a job.

Tarantino says that although corporate America says it wants to hire vets, so far it's amounted to little more than talk.

"This is the first generation of business leaders in America that has largely never served in the military," he says.

As a result, he says, vets and prospective employers often don't see eye to eye. Tarantino says he once explained to an interviewer that he had been a company commander in the military, running an organization with 400 employees and three multimillion-dollar budgets.

"The next sentence [the interviewer] said was, 'Well, you know, if you took this job you might run a group of up to 30 people. Do you think you could handle that level of responsibility?' "

Tarantino says it's not just the cultural disconnect. Military drivers and medics, for example, aren't automatically licensed to do the same job in the private sector once they leave the military. That makes the job transition harder.

Tarantino is now a legislative advocate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He says he hopes the recently enacted Hire Heroes Act will provide more counseling and vocational training. It also gives tax incentives to employers who hire vets.

But David Loughran, a senior economist at the Rand Corp., says tax credits won't likely make much of a difference. And he says history shows that over the longer term, vets actually have an employment advantage.

"The evidence shows us that, while veterans have a period of unemployment following separation, they rejoin the civilian labor market within a relatively short period of time," Loughran says. "In the long run, if you look at veterans compared to comparably educated people in the civilian labor market ... in fact they have lower unemployment."

The jobless rate in October for vets of the first Gulf War was 5.9 percent. For earlier conflicts, it was 7.2 percent — in both cases, lower than the 9 percent rate for the population overall.

But the hope of eventual improvement provides little comfort to 31-year-old Nick Workman, who served four years in Iraq as an infantryman. The military experience was incredibly challenging training, he says.

"You're able to plan, you're able to supervise the execution of that plan, you know how to work well within a team — not only within the team, but in charge of the team," Workman says.

He thought attaining the rank of captain would be like getting an advanced degree.

"This is what the Army was telling me," he says. "The pitch was: That is essentially equivalent to a master's degree, in the eyes of an employer."

But since returning in 2006, Workman hasn't found any job requiring a college degree. Last month, he was laid off from a bookstore. Workman says employers seem worried that vets might be struggling with PTSD or other injuries that might affect their work.

"I get that sort of trepidation, that timid [attitude], walking on eggshells around certain questions," he says.

Veteran's advocate Tarantino says the public, and vets, may be weary of hearing about war.

"What worries me, what does keep me up at night is that the American people are going to stop paying attention. They're going to stop caring. And in turn our leaders in Congress are going to stop paying attention and caring," Tarantino says.

And that apathy, he says, may prove to be a vet's worst enemy yet.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's another group frustrated by corporate culture and by Congress: veterans. Many who've served in the wars in the past decade are now looking for work as civilians. Just the other day I met a veteran who learned to set casts for the broken limbs of troops overseas and now works at a hospital here in Washington setting casts for children.

It turns out he's lucky. The unemployment among vets serving since the second Gulf War has risen to more than 12 percent. As we've reported on this program, Congress approved a law last month to extend tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans. But many vets worry that may not be enough.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Tom Tarantino spent a decade in the military. He served in Iraq and led a platoon. When he separated from the military in 2007, he spent nearly a year looking for a job. Tarantino says although corporate America says it wants to hire vets, so far it's amounted to little more than talk.

TOM TARANTINO: This is the first generation of business leaders in America that's largely never served in the military.

NOGUCHI: As a result, Tarantino says, vets and prospective employers often don't see eye-to-eye.

TARANTINO: I was explaining to a gentleman during an interview that for a time I was a company commander, and I said, you know, I ran an organization of 400 employees with three multimillion-dollar budgets. And the next sentence he said was, well, you know, if you took this job you might run a group of up to 30 people. Do you think you could handle that level of responsibility?

NOGUCHI: He says it's not just the cultural disconnect. Military drivers and medics, for example, aren't automatically licensed to do the same job in the private sector once they leave the military. That makes the job transition harder. Tarantino is now a lobbyist for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He says he hopes the recently enacted Hire Heroes Act will provide more counseling and vocational training. The act also gives tax incentives to employers who hire vets. But David Loughran, a senior economist at the Rand Corporation, says tax credits won't likely make much of a difference. And he says history shows that over the longer term vets actually have an employment advantage.

DAVID LOUGHRAN: I think that the evidence shows us that while veterans have a period of unemployment following separation, they rejoin the civilian labor market within a relatively short period of time and that in the long run, if you look at veterans compared to comparably educated people in the civilian labor market, that in fact they have lower unemployment.

NOGUCHI: The jobless rate for vets of the first Gulf War is 5.9 percent. For earlier conflicts, it's 7.2 percent. In both cases, lower than the nine percent rate for the population overall. But the hope of eventual improvement provides little comfort to Nick Workman. Workman is 31 years old and served four years in Iraq as an infantryman. It was, he says, incredibly challenging training.

NICK WORKMAN: You're able to plan, you're able to supervise, you know, the execution of that plan, you know how to work well within a team - not only within the team, but in charge of the team.

NOGUCHI: He thought attaining the rank of captain would be like getting an advanced degree.

WORKMAN: This is what the Army was telling me. The pitch was: That is essentially equivalent to a Master's degree, in the eyes of an employer.

NOGUCHI: But since returning in 2006, Workman hasn't found any job requiring a college degree. Last month he was laid off from a bookstore. Workman says employers seem worried that vets might be struggling with PTSD or other injuries that might affect their work.

WORKMAN: I get that sort of trepidation, that timid walking on eggshells around certain questions, you know.

NOGUCHI: Veterans advocate Tarantino says the public may be weary of hearing about war.

TARANTINO: What worries me, what does keep me up at night is that the American people are going to stop paying attention. They're going to stop caring. And in turn our leaders in Congress are going to stop paying attention and caring.

NOGUCHI: And that apathy, he says, may prove to be a vet's worst enemy yet. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.