Last month, President Obama announced that the United States will complete a troop withdrawal from Iraq, bringing home 39,000 troops by year’s end. America’s heroes will be returning home to a stagnant economy, a persistent housing crisis, and declining wages. It is fair to say that America is facing an unemployment epidemic that will continue into the foreseeable future if there is not a concerted effort on the part of the government to incentivize job growth in the private sector.
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent. What’s more, service members who left the military in the last decade are unemployed at a rate of 12.1 percent, up drastically from a year ago when the rate was 10.2 percent. The number for post-9/11 veterans is even more staggering at 13.3%. The October jobs report was discouraging for recent service members who saw their situation worsen while the overall workforce saw a decline in their unemployment.
When soldiers returned from WWII they were welcomed with employment opportunities in industries that are now bleeding job loss. Those who did not seek a college education through the GI Bill could secure a good manufacturing job that would allow them to enter the middle-class. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the picture is quite different in 2011, with 2.8 million American jobs lost in the last decade. Roughly 70 percent of these came out of the manufacturing sector.
A USAToday article on the post 9/11 veteran unemployment crisis explains that many former soldiers worked in mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities, all of which are industries that have been deeply affected by the recession.
In order to combat this pervasive unemployment, the Obama administration has taken action to incentivize the hiring of former service members including the “Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors Tax Credit” which will give businesses tax credits if they hire unemployed veterans. In a nod to the increasing role of social media in the labor market, the Labor Department has partnered with Facebook to provide job training and search resources to those looking for work. Other tools already exist to connect jobseekers and employers via LinkedIN, using referrals, and almost half of employers suggest they use social media sites to screen employees. What’s more, as recently as October 2010, 86% of job-seekers admitted to looking online during their job searches. Although the Facebook and Labor Department partnership is new, it is a positive step towards fully harnessing the potential of the Internet to help the unemployed find good jobs.
Efforts from the administration to spur veteran hiring are steps in the right direction, but they are not sufficient on their own. Obama acknowledged the importance of the private sector when he challenged American firms to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. Programs such as Helmets to Hardhats, established by the union construction industry to offer returning soldiers the opportunity to enter construction trade apprenticeship programs in an earn-while-you-learn environment, will hopefully make a dent in the sad trend of veteran unemployment.
A nuance often overlooked in the veteran re-employment conversation is employer resistance to veteran hiring. A recent Raw Story article highlighted the resistance many veterans face, especially in the private sector where employers are accustomed to hiring through strict channels of discovery and rehearsed indicators of skill. To combat this kind of prejudice, AT&T is launching two new online resources: a custom military skills translator which will enable servicemen and women to use their current Military Occupation Code or Military Occupation Specialty to find corresponding civilian career opportunities at AT&T, and the Careers4Vets program which connects interested veterans with mentors within AT&T.
Mark Siegel, a company spokesmen, said, “For decades, we have aggressively recruited military talent from both enlisted and officer ranks. The technical skills and leadership experience gained in the military transfer well to our company and culture.” America, a country that has always been on the cutting edge of innovation and technology, should be emulating AT&T’s efforts to hire veterans.
Just as the post-WWII generation enjoyed the rewards of a booming economy and increased college enrollment, America should strive to create an era that is marked by widespread job growth in the technology sector. Deloitte predicts that next generation wireless broadband build out will create 371,000-771,000 jobs and GDP growth between $73 billion and $151 billion by 2016. Now more than ever, employment opportunities must be made available to brave veterans who are returning home in increasing numbers. It is simply not fair to expect our soldiers to fight for America, only to return home to fight for a job.
About the Author: Steve Cooper is the editor of We Party Patriots, a labor and political blog with a national focus. He educates union members on the benefits of social media, offering instruction on engaging on Facebook and Twitter. When not ruining his posture and finger muscles through endless computer use, Cooper is an avid chef and musician.