There’s been a huge deal of attention paid to the issue of veterans and unemployment lately. The administration has its proposals to get troops from Iraq and Afghanistan back to work; Congress has its own plans.
And yet despite all the high-level attention — and despite news that the national unemployment rate has nudged downward — the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is headed in the wrong direction.
For the past two months, the unemployment rate among veterans who have left active duty since 2001 has steadily climbed, from 9.8 percent in August to 12.1 percent in October. That puts the current rate more than three percentage points above the civilian unemployment rate.
A year ago, the national unemployment rate among veterans who left military service in the past decade was hovering around 10 percent.
There’s a great deal of volatility in the month-to-month rates — the veteran sample size is relatively small compared with the civilian sample, and the data are not seasonally adjusted. As a result, it’s hard to put too much stock in the figures for any given month. (In June, the jobless rate among veterans was at 13.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
That said, the unemployment rate among veterans has consistently outpaced the rate among civilians, and Friday’s report is likely to amplify calls for someone — anyone — to do more to get troops coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq back to work.
Senate Democrats, for their part, have been trying to advance legislation that would offer new tax incentives to businesses to hire veterans and the long-term unemployed.
The House, in a bipartisan vote, recently passed a similar measure that would provide education and training benefits to unemployed veterans, but that does not include tax credits for businesses.
In a statement on Friday, a veterans’ group urged the Senate to approve its bill, which it plans to take up on the floor next week.
“After today’s grim vets jobs report, this legislation could not come at a better time for the at least 240,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets who were out of work last month,” said Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
There has been some progress in getting veterans hired, despite the grim numbers.
When the administration over the summer released its annual report on hiring of all vets — not just Iraq and Afghanistan — it showed that hiring had picked up over the previous year.
But in a national economy that’s struggling to post more than the most modest growth, hiring levels haven’t been enough to persistently bring down the jobless rate among vets.
Next week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta heads to New York for an event hosted by Goldman Sachs to discuss how the country can get more veterans on the payroll.
The event is on Monday; Friday is Veterans’ Day.