Unemployment among recent veterans has fallen sharply and now is the same as for the rest of the U.S. population, hovering just above 7 percent, new federal statistics show.
The figures suggest that a vexing and stubborn trend of higher joblessness among veterans who left the military after September 2001 has been reversed. It now appears that veterans are being hired at a faster rate than non-veterans.
Advocates credited a variety of public and private efforts, including major U.S. corporations beginning to make good on pledges to hire hundreds of thousands of veterans, federal tax incentives for employers and allowances for veterans to receive professional licenses based on their military training.
In the second quarter of this year, average unemployment among post-9/11 veterans was 7.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is not statistically different from the rate of 7.2 percent for non-veterans.
Until recently, the jobless rate among those veterans remained stuck in double digits, even as U.S. unemployment peaked in early 2010 and began to decline.
The labor bureau’s monthly employment surveys had been pointing toward a narrowing since April.
But the monthly data are considered far less reliable than quarterly figures, which were released without fanfare earlier this month.
Government economists are cautiously optimistic about the decline. James Walker of the labor bureau called the improvement impressive but said there was no guarantee that the trend would continue.
About 2.8 million veterans have served in the military since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Their current employment picture looks even better when their demographics are taken into account. The largest share – more than 40 percent – are men between 25 and 34. Their unemployment rate was lower than that of their non-veteran counterparts: 6.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent.
Still, nobody is declaring victory.
“The labor force statistics are pointing in the right direction,” said Gary Shaheen, director of employment policy at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”
In 2011, the average unemployment rate was 12.1 percent for post-9/11 veterans and 8.7 percent for non-veterans.
Joblessness fell across the board in 2012, but a disparity in unemployment rates remained: 9.9 percent versus 7.9 percent. Those numbers held relatively steady until the second quarter of this year, when the gap disappeared.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic in the new quarterly data is the unemployment rate among female veterans of 7.1 percent, which is on par with male veterans and female non-veterans.
Until now, female veterans have consistently fared worse than those groups. Military sexual abuse, single parenthood and other challenges they face have spurred a variety of recent efforts to improve their employment prospects. They make up 19 percent of all post-9/11 veterans.