03/20/2014 02:08 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT

Joblessness among post-Sept. 11 veterans inches down to 9 per cent for 2013, but remains high

WASHINGTON - The unemployment rate for veterans who served since 2001 dipped slightly in 2013 to 9 per cent, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That's down from 9.9 per cent the year before, but well above overall civilian unemployment levels of around 7 per cent over the same period.

The youngest veterans, aged 18-24, posted an ultra-high jobless rate of 21.4 per cent, said the agency's Bureau of Labor Statistics in its annual review of unemployment among former members of the armed services.

The report documents that, despite training and job skills acquired in the military, young veterans of recent conflicts have generally encountered more difficulty in finding work than civilians.

"Veterans have the skills that employers are looking for. They make our nation's workforce more productive, our companies more profitable and our economy more competitive. Smart businesses recruit veterans because it's in their self-interest, because they know it's a sound investment in their bottom line," Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a statement.

Veterans with the highest jobless numbers served in the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

For all veterans, the unemployment rate was 6.6 per cent in 2013, down from 7 per cent the year before.

That's not markedly different from overall unemployment levels in the United States, which averaged 7.4 per cent in 2013 and finished the year with a 6.7 per cent rate for December. The most recent overall unemployment rate was also 6.7 per cent in February 2014.

"Those in the youngest group are experiencing unemployment at a higher rate than their nonveteran peers," said Teresa W. Gerton, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the department's Veterans' Employment and Training Service.

"But their labour participation rates are higher. Their attachment to the labour force is stronger. They're out there trying to get a job," Gerton said in an interview. She suggested that the picture will get brighter "as the economy continues to recover."

Gerton said there has always been a transition period as people leave the military and join the civilian workforce. "We work closely with a broad spectrum of employers" to help shorten that transition time, she said. "They understand the value that veterans bring."

The economy is still digging out from the 2007-2009 Great Recession and it will likely be some time before overall unemployment returns to pre-recessionary levels of 5 per cent or lower.

Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the labour-oriented Economic Policy Institute, said the new report documents a well-known trend: "We all know that young workers have higher unemployment rates. It doesn't mean they're worse off as a group."

Other highlights of the veterans' jobs report:

—Twenty-nine per cent of veterans serving since 2001 reported having a service-connected disability as of last August, compared with 15 per cent of all veterans.

— In 2013, 21.4 million men and women, or 9 per cent of the general population age 18 and over, were veterans.

—Veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era accounted for roughly half of the total veteran population in the United States of 21.4 million men and women.

—The unemployment rate for recent veterans has been noticeably higher than it is for non-veterans in the same demographic group, although the gap has been narrowing.

—States with the highest unemployment rate among veterans were Michigan and New Jersey, both with over 10 per cent. States with the lowest rates were Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia, all under 4 per cent.

The new numbers came out a day after President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans in recognition of their valour during major combat operations in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The annual report was compiled by the Labor Department with the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Among all of the veterans, the unemployment rate for women declined to 6.9 per cent in 2013 while the rate for men edged down to 6.6 per cent.


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