Getting out, and getting employment

The last few years haven’t been the easiest for veterans who are looking for work. Overall, numbers haven’t been far from the national average. Unemployment among veterans in January was 7.6 percent, while the national average was 7.9.
So things didn’t look so bad overall, but delving deeper into the numbers, they didn’t look so great either.
An unemployment rate 0.3 percent lower than the national average seems encouraging, until one looks back several months. Just two months prior, in November, the veteran unemployment rate was just 6.6 percent. Since then it rose an entire percentage point in December and January.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 21 million veterans in the United States, so a rise in unemployment of 1 percent would be a staggering change — 210,000.
The biggest concern seems to be for those veterans who just recently are getting out of the military. One way to see the difference is to look at the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans, which stood at 11.7 percent in January.
More and more military women and men are exiting the service and moving into the private sector, adding to the already high number of veterans looking for work, statistics show.
While this paints a fairly bleak picture for veteran employment, not all is bad news. Because of conflicts winding down and troops returning home, national attention has turned toward veterans moving into the workforce.
Congress is looking at a number of ways to help veterans transition to civilian life.
National companies like Walmart have made promises to hire more veterans than ever before. Walmart announced in January that it plans to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the coming five years.
“Walmart will offer a job to any honorably discharged veteran within his or her first twelve months off active duty,” said CEO Bill Simon in a January speech. “Not every returning veteran wants to work in retail. But every veteran who does will have a place to go.”
More locally, representatives in the Washington State Legislature are presenting bills that attempt to help stem the tide of rising veteran unemployment.
State Rep. Jan Angel of Kitsap County presented a bill in February that would give tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans. State Rep. Steve O’Ban of Pierce County introduced a bill that would speed up the process through which veterans apply for jobs by allowing them to apply and receive preference prior to officially separating with the military.
As current law stands, veterans must be fully separated from the military before they can begin applying for jobs with veterans’ preference, forcing many veterans to take unemployment while looking for work instead of seamlessly transitioning from the military to civilian workforce.
“Our veterans have earned their place in our communities through their unmatched public service,” O’Ban said. “The least we can do is help ensure they carry on with their lives and not have to stand in the unemployment line.”
Newly appointed Washington Governor Jay Inslee also made the hiring of veterans a priority. After remaining somewhat quiet in his first few weeks on the job, Inslee announced in February an agenda that he said would help companies hire 4,100 new veterans.
“I’ve also asked (the) legislature to approve bills to recruit more (and) require more purchasing from vet-owned businesses,” Inslee tweeted in February.
Inslee listed eight top priorities in his economic policy brief. Second on that list was “Pass tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans.”
Gov. Inslee’s legislation would also ask government agencies to increase contracts with veteran-owned businesses from 3 percent to 5 percent.
With the return of many formerly deployed soldiers and military reduction following the eventual close of conflicts in the middle east, active-duty military members will continue to transition to other jobs in 2013 and beyond.
All of these actions are part of a larger attempt to reverse the rising tide of veteran unemployment, but to do so will require not only legislation and employment initiatives from businesses like Walmart, but also a shot in the arm to the nation’s economy.
Veteran jobs are in a tenuous situation, but if the unemployment rate can be held at bay, there are good signs on the horizon.