New war vet unemployment rate dips, but doubts remain

Dawn Halfaker, left, President & CEO, Halfaker & Associates, attends the Capital One Bank commits nearly a half million dollars to Easter Seals to help veterans make the transition to civilian jobs and retain long-term employment through New Veteran Staffing Network Event on June 14, 2013, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Getty Images

For nearly 10 years, there have been dire warnings and signs about a generation of war veterans unemployed and lost amid the ups and downs of America's economy. In the last two years or so, politicians, government agencies, corporations and non-profit groups started earnestly taking up the cause, and the advocacy appears to have finally made a difference.

In June, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had an unemployment rate that dropped below the national average after years of greatly outpacing their civilian counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Veterans of those wars had a June unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, down from 9.5 percent the previous year. The June 2013 national average for all workers was 7.5 percent.

Veterans advocates and statisticians say the sample size of those veterans surveyed can be small and therefore the numbers are subject to large fluctuations, but nearly all admit there has been a consistent, recent downward trend in unemployment rates for veterans of the recent wars.

However, while the news is positive, female veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan continue to face a worse situation than their male counterparts. Recent female veterans were unemployed at a rate of 8.9 percent in June, compared to 6.8 percent for male veterans.

"Female veterans are up against the wall and it's time to break down the wall and get them the jobs they need," said Mike Liguori, an Iraq war veteran from California and veterans advocate who founded the Spirit of War Military Blog, which is a place for veterans to read and share stories of interest to them.

Liguori said female veterans get overlooked because there are relatively few of them compared to the male military population.

"We're all on the same team and we need to be treated equally, but in terms of that I think companies need to make more of an effort with female veterans and catering to their needs," Liguori said.

When CBSNews.com first met Army National Guard Sgt. Norma Mojica of Newark, N.J., last year, she was struggling to find civilian employment in between overseas deployments. A year later, as the National Guard rotates overseas less and the need for civilian work increases, Mojica -- who has deployed to Iraq twice, including once with her son in the same unit -- says she and her fellow unemployed Guardsmen still have trouble finding gainful employment.

"Everybody is still struggling," Mojica said. "Some are volunteering to go on deployment - that's how bad it is."

If it weren't for her minimally paid duties performing in the Honor Guard at funerals for veterans in cemeteries across northern New Jersey, Mojica said she'd "be in trouble."

While no studies indicate exactly why female vets fare worse than men, advocates suggest factors like single parenthood, military sexual abuse and the mental health complications that arise from it, and other factors contribute to their struggles.

Something that might help female veterans is the same thing that has helped improve the overall picture, said Ted Daywalt, founder and CEO of Vetjobs.com, one of the largest online veteran jobs boards.

Daywalt said the lower overall unemployment rate "has been driven down mostly by all the publicity that has been given to the younger veterans."

Advocates point to other factors for the improved overall unemployment rate: Large corporations like Walmart, Capitol One, and Home Depot have begun following through on their promise to hire large numbers of veterans; many veterans have finally been home long enough to find gainful employment; and advocacy against the negative stigma of wounded veterans, including those with PTSD, has gotten more effective.

Historically, veterans have enjoyed a significantly lower unemployment rate than the civilian population, a trend that continues today when taking into account all veterans groups since World War II. Their overall unemployment rate was 6.3 percent, a full 1.2 points lower than the national average.

Ted Daywalt said the reason behind the overall lower unemployment rate is simple: "That's because veterans already have all the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace."

Mike Liguori admits that he and his fellow young veterans see more jobs available to them than ever before, and they feel good about the situation, but a major challenge remains.

"If we're gonna talk about veteran employment and make sure it's done the right way, jobs are great, but longevity is the big thing," Liguori said. "I think the jobs are there. I think people are now more concerned about careers and career paths."

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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