Barack Obama recently declared victory in Afghanistan – sort of – and announced plans to bring the last combat troops home in 2014. As the war winds down, our commitment to the troops who served shouldn’t wind down with it.
The unemployment rate among the country’s youngest veterans – the ones who volunteered after 9/11 – is intolerably high. The best current numbers, from 2011, were released in March by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here are the low points:
• Last year, 12.1 percent of all “post-9/11” vets were out of work last year – nearly half again the country’s overall unemployment rate of roughly 8 percent.
• Among black post-9/11 vets, unemployment ran 14.3 percent. Among Hispanics, 17 percent.
• The numbers are far worse for male veterans under the age of 24. Their jobless rate was a staggering three out of every ten – 70 percent higher than their nonveteran peers.
• A total of 234,000 post-9/11 vets want jobs and can’t find them. This army of unemployed patriots is much larger than the forces the United States deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Things threaten to get worse before they get better. With the military shifting into peacetime mode, another 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are likely to be separated from the military in the next few years. That figure could go up if Congress doesn’t reach a compromise on a deficit-reduction plan. The South Sound will see plenty of job-seeking veterans civilians, given the presence here of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The U.S. government has done a fair job – so far – of responding to the problem.
It has stepped up efforts to care for veterans who suffered injuries that might be impairing their ability to work. It offers substantial support to those seeking job-training or academic degrees. Many agencies give preference to those who served. Late last year, Congress unanimously approved tax breaks for employers who hire jobless veterans.
The dismal numbers would drop dramatically if the economy cooperated. The United States has supposedly been in recovery for years, but tell that to the throngs of people waiting for return phone calls on their job applications. A healthy rebound would open millions of doors for veterans and nonveterans alike, but prosperity always seems to be just over the horizon.
In the meantime, Americans – and American companies – have a moral obligation to those who put their bodies between this nation and its enemies. They don’t need parades, flags or grandiloquent speeches. What they need are jobs.