Veterans Employment Prospects Improve, But Women Vets Still Struggle

Nov 9, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

As the nation prepares to celebrate Veteran’s Day Sunday, there is encouraging news about the progress American business has made in hiring veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The unemployment rate among veterans of what the government calls Gulf War II is the highest of all veterans.

Collectively, veterans have an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent, well below the national rate of 7.9 percent. However, post-9/11 veterans have an unemployment rate of 10 percent.

A year ago in October (the most recent month for the data), the unemployment rate for those veterans was 12.1 percent. That month the national rate was 8.9 percent. The gap between the national unemployment rate and that for veterans is still wide, but it has closed considerably in 12 months, narrowing from 3.2 points to the current 2.1.

What’s helped is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and in particular the Vow to Hire Heroes Act, which gives employers a tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring unemployed and/or disabled veterans. That program, like so many other tax programs and rate reductions, will end on December 31 unless Congress acts to extend it.

Even without the credits, employers have been stepping up with their own veterans’ outreach. In March 2011 some of the largest companies in the U.S., led by JPMorgan Chase, came together to pledge to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020. According to the site, the 70+ companies now participating have cumulatively hired 28,000 veterans.

Just this week supermarket and retailing giant Kroger Co. announced it had hired 17,400 veterans since 2009. The company participates in the 100,000 Jobs Mission, and also has its own program Hiring Our Heroes.

Jobvite, the innovative talent acquisition tech company, added a feature to its job posting tools making it simple for a company to highlight a job particularly suited for a veteran. This “Apps for Heroes” feature also posts the job to a variety of sites, including the government’s Veterans Job Bank.

CareerBuilder this morning released a survey that says 29 percent of responding employers are actively recruiting veterans. That’s an increase of nine points from last year. Twenty-two percent are planning on adding members of the National Guard, an increase of eight points over last year.

That’s an encouraging improvement, but it begs the question of why 100 percent of hiring managers and recruiters don’t actively recruit veterans. CareerBuilder did find that 65 percent of employers said they would be more likely to hire a vet over an equally qualified non-vet.

However, what employers — a noun meaning the 2,655 hiring managers and HR professionals in the survey — say they’ll do and what they actually do can be quite different. The Washington Post carried a long article about this a few months ago headlined “Why companies hire veterans, and why they don’t.” Turns out there are two major reasons for not hiring:

  • Military skills and experience don’t necessarily translate into the skills and experience a civilian understands;
  • Negative stereotypes of veterans prompted by concerns about PTSD and the military “personality.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs addressed this same point, citing the same study by The Center for a New American Security as the Post did. The blog article, written by two veterans at Wharton, listed five specific reasons why employers don’t hire. In addition to the two above, the list includes concern about redeployment, skills mismatch, and acclimation to a corporate culture.

Of the post-9/11 veterans, women have struggled the most with the job market. As the unemployment rate for male vets has gone from 12.3 percent in October 2011 to 9.2 percent last month, the rate for females has jumped from 10.9 percent a year ago to 15.5 percent last month.

John E. Pickens III, executive director of VeteransPlus, told NBC News that women vets “are misunderstood and challenged in a number of ways. Typically, folks look at male veterans returning as warriors who we need to honor, and say we need to do what we can for these warriors. Women, unfortunately, don’t carry home that same mantel as a warrior. But they certainly have served beside the men and, in many cases, have done a lot of things that put themselves as risk.”

A blog post on Media Matters detailed several reasons why women vets have a harder time than men finding jobs. Among the reasons listed are:

  • Historically, women have gravitated toward public sectors, especially education, which have suffered some of the biggest cutbacks during the recession;
  • Many of the female vets are single mothers, who need flexible work schedules;
  • More women vets than men have service related disabilities and health issues;
  • And, by a Department of Defense estimate, one in four servicewomen have been sexually victimized, leading to mental health and personality issues.

Slowly, the spotlight is being turned on the problems of women veterans, and companies are taking action.

Capital One Financial Corporation partnered with a nonprofit women’s business-focused group launching Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps, specifically to help female veteran entrepreneurs. Swords to Plowshares has SHOUT, a campaign to raise public awareness about female veterans.

Such programs will help to raise the profile of women veterans, getting them both the respect as soldiers and sailors that their male counterparts receive, and the employment help they need.

Says Genevieve Chase, founder of American Women Veterans, and a wounded Afghan veteran herself, “The American public doesn’t understand what we do overseas; they don’t quite know how to receive us, don’t know how to relate to us. Even some of our brothers, even some of the men who we served with, don’t quite know how to relate to us.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.