The latest BLS unemployment figures indicate that nearly 10% of post-9/11 veterans 25 and over are unemployed, compared to 7.6% of civilians in that age group. In researching an America story on this phenomenon, The Next Battle, one thing that struck me was the extent to which employment prospects for our veterans are intertwined with the future of the federal government workforce.
Affirmative action to promote federal hiring of our veterans represents a remarkable success story dating all the way back to the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944. Uncle Sam was ready to take a chance on hiring our servicemen and women even when private employers were skeptical or skittish. As a result, not just the Department of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs but also the Department of Transportation and the Post Office hire remarkable numbers of vets. While only 1 in every 13 American workers overall has a service record, veterans represent one out of every four civilian employees of the federal government.
It’s a source of employment that is drying up for this generation of veterans. The Vietnam veterans who returned home to a slumping economy and prejudices about PTSD could often still find a place on growing federal payrolls. Not so today, when a sour public mood prevails about government in general and public employees in particular.
The result? Our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen separating from the service have fewer opportunities for civilian employment than their predecessors. As we move forward as a nation and take decisions about the future of the federal workforce, justice and prudence alike demand that we keep watch for unintended consequences like these.