National Partnership analysis of new data released today on veterans’ labor market status reveals that young veterans, disabled veterans, and veterans of color are facing particular barriers to employment, even in a relatively strong economy.
The new data show that while veterans have lower rates of unemployment than non-veterans, like the labor market overall, unemployment rates for Black, Latinx and Asian veterans are higher than for white veterans. At the same time, Black men are overrepresented in military service. For many Black families, joining the military provides an opportunity for economic stability – one that our policymakers have failed to provide in other areas. However, in addition to having higher unemployment rates than their white peers, Black veterans’ disability claims are more likely to be denied, particularly for claims related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
We also find that young veterans face high unemployment rates, with young women veterans (ages 18-24) faring the worst. The unemployment rate for young women veterans is 10.2 percent – significantly higher than their women non-veteran peers (7.1 percent). The unemployment rate for young women veterans is also much higher than for young men veterans (8.4 percent) or young men non-veterans (8.5 percent).
Veterans with disabilities also contend with employment challenges. Today’s data show that Gulf War-era veterans with service-connected disabilities are less likely to be in the labor force than those without these disabilities – a particularly notable finding as we mark the 20th anniversary of the second Gulf War this month. Compared to veterans of earlier conflicts, those who have served since the first Gulf War have experienced higher rates of service-connected disabilities for several reasons, including advancements in military medicine leading to higher rates of survival among injured servicemembers, as well as policy changes that allowed for veterans to more easily access the disability benefits they have earned.
We find that women veterans have higher rates of service-connected disabilities than men veterans overall, largely because women veterans are younger and thus are more likely to have served during the Gulf Wars. Of course, many veterans have disabilities that are unconnected to their service. And while disabled workers – especially disabled women – have recently seen modest but critical improvements in the labor market, there are still myriad barriers to a fully inclusive economy.
Veterans’ challenges do not stop at the labor market. A lack of support and social isolation after discharge increases the risk of being unhoused for veterans. On one night in January 2022, the VA found that 33,129 veterans were unhoused. About 51 percent of unhoused veterans have a disability, 50 percent have a serious mental illness, and about 70 percent have substance use disorders. More than 40 percent of unhoused veterans are people of color. Finding employment while unhoused is particularly difficult. Many jobs require a permanent address to apply. Additionally, a lack of reliable contact information and transportation, as well as lack of access to regular showers and professional clothing, can limit opportunities.
Lastly, we find that the federal government is a critical employer for veterans, especially women veterans, who are more than six times more likely than non-veteran women to work for the federal government – higher than the rate for men. Unfortunately, employment growth in the federal government has lagged behind the private sector since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the looming potential for a government shutdown has only increased threats to veteran employees’ financial security.
Veterans face unique challenges in many areas, including the labor market. Ensuring well-compensated jobs with benefits are accessible for veterans of color, veterans who are young or disabled, or veterans who live at the intersections of these identities is essential to making sure they are able to succeed.
Read our full analysis on Twitter:
Today’s data show that #veterans have lower rates of unemployment than non-veterans. However, like the labor market overall, unemployment rates for Black, Latinx and Asian veterans are higher than for white veterans. 2/11 pic.twitter.com/NYwwGoNxMi— Dr. Kate Gallagher Robbins (@kfgrobbins) March 21, 2023
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The authors are grateful to Kendyll Cole and Areeba Haider for support on data analysis.