Thursday, September 25, 2014

VETS 8 | Ronald Allix, Homeless No More

Ronald Allix. Click for a larger photo.
Ronald Allix, 46, Was
Homeless in Detroit
Army Veteran Ronald Allix was laid off from his auto factory job during  the 2008 financial crisis.

His personal problems became crushing. He became:
  • divorced, 
  • homeless 
  • desperate
Last month, Allix and 13 other Veterans aged between 25 and 60 graduated from the Blight Removal and Heavy Equipment Training Program at the Detroit Training Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. It sounds a lot like the successful training program at the NJISJ in Newark.

All of the trainees were placed in Detroit area jobs. Allix has earned Michigan State licenses in asbestos and lead abatement and a certificate in heavy equipment operation. He has been hired as a construction laborer paying $12.75 an hour. He is preparing to move out of the shelter.

Allix applied for the program after seeing a flyer at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, which received a grant of $300,000 through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program in 2013. He sums up the outcome of his training succinctly as follows:
This was a life-changing experience for me. Without the program I would likely still be stuck because I didn't have a clear path in mind to get into anything else.
Patrick Beal, CEO of the Detroit Training Center, says: "Veterans are great candidates for job placement [because] they are disciplined and eager to learn new skills." Click Here for More Information

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Veteran's Story 7 - Navy's First Female Officer - Mildred McAfee

The daughter of Rev. Dr. Cleland Boyd and Harriet Brown McAfee in Park College, Mo., Mildred H. McAfee was born in 1900 at the college her grandfather founded. After her family moved to Chicago, she attended the Francis W. Parker School.

McAfee entered Vassar with the Class of 1920 (overlapping by one year with Edna St. Vincent Millay), studying economics, sociology, and English - and playing on her class’s hockey and basketball teams and being active with Vassar's debate team and student government.

She served as the president of her class and president of the Christian Association. Graduating Phi Beta Kappa, she taught elementary and middle-school-aged girls in her home state for three years. In fall 1923, she left Illinois to become an acting professor of economics and sociology at Tusculum College in Greenville, Tenn.

Studying at the University of Chicago during the summers, McAfee earned her M.A. in Sociology in 1928. In 1926 she became Dean of Women at Centre College and stayed there till 1932, when she returned to Vassar as the Executive Secretary of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College, helping to  raise money to build Kenyon Hall. Two years later, McAfee accepted the position of Dean of College Women at Oberlin College.

In 1936, Wellesley College ended an 18-month search involving more than 100 candidates, naming  Mildred McAfee its President at 36. Her presidency emphasized truth as the greatest and most precious object of scholarly pursuit, and defended a liberal arts education against accusations of indulgence during the Depression. She told Wellesley students:
I envisage the function of this college, or any college, to prepare an oncoming generation of students to disseminate truth. It is my conviction that truth is more easily given a hearing if it is presented by a healthy, well-adjusted, effective human being who sees the truth in the light of a world-philosophy which gives it meaning.
Her presidency of Wellesley was interrupted by World War II. As the United States mobilized against Nazi aggression, the need for women in the Navy became increasingly apparent. The last of the Yeomen (F) left active U.S. Navy duty 23 years before. Only a small number of Navy Nurses represented their gender in the U.S. Navy and they did not have formal officer status. Now, the Navy was preparing to accept a large number of enlisted women and in addition female officers to supervise them.

For this purpose, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) was created.  Establishing the WAVES was complex because inter-war changes in the Naval Reserve legislation limited service to men. Though some had long known that uniformed women would be a wartime necessity, opinion was against it until Europe was overrun by the Nazis. Even then, it required creativity to get an authorization through The Congress. FDR signed it into law on 30 July 1942.

The next few months saw the commissioning of Mildred McAfee to head the WAVES. she had to manage recruiting, training, administration and uniform design - the basic WAVES uniform design is still in use in the 21st century. Within a year 27,000 women wore it.

These women served in a far wider range of occupations than had the Yeomen (F). Secretarial and clerical jobs still took a large portion of the women but thousands of WAVES also performed new duties in the aviation community, Judge Advocate General Corps, medical professions, communications, intelligence, science and technology.

The wartime Navy's demand for them was intense as it struggled to defeat Hitler and Mussolini in Europe and then the Japanese in the Pacific. At the end of World War II, there were more than 8,000 female officers and 80,000 enlisted WAVES, about 2½ percent of the Navy's total strength. In some locations WAVES constituted a majority of uniformed Naval personnel. Many remained in uniform to help get the Navy into, and through, the post-war era. (A total of 16 million Americans were on active duty in World War II. Of them, 8,000 are still living.)

To take on the job of running the WAVES in August 1942, McAfee took what turned out to be a two-and-a-half-year leave of absence from the Wellesley College presidency. She served at the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, the first woman ever commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy. She remained with the WAVES until 1945, was promoted to the rank of Captain, and received the Distinguished Service Medal for her work.

Upon her return to Wellesley, she married Rev. Dr. Douglass Horton, former dean of the Harvard Divinity School and a Congregational Minister. She retired from Wellesley in 1948. After retirement, McAfee worked with her husband in church and civic work and was also an active leader in education and social reform. Having written her M.A. thesis on the YWCA, she worked with the  Congregational Church to bridge gaps and create understanding through religion.

She served as a UNESCO delegate, was a director of the New York Life Insurance Company, the NBC, RCA, and the Ford Foundation's Fund for the Advancement of Education. Later she co-chaired the National Women’s Conference on Civil Rights.

McAfee’s husband died in the couple’s New Hampshire home in 1968. She survived him by 26 years, continuing her social and religious work until her own death in 1994. When she died, she had been awarded more than 31 honorary degrees.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jobs after Discharge - How Male and Female Veterans Differ

It is hard for civilians to understand the extent of the
adjustment problems facing discharged soldiers.
The war in Iraq and Afghanistan has been winding down after more than 23 years.

Service members are being discharged into the civilian labor force in large numbers.

Physical and mental casualties have been greater than in prior wars, when more soldiers may have died but relatively fewer were injured.

The new Obama initiative against ISIS/ISIL announced a few hours ago is designed to avoid more American "boots on the ground".

The Challenge of Transition to Civilian Life 

Recently discharged soldiers may well be older than typical hires in the business and at the level they go into. They may bypass entry-level jobs if they are fortunate, or they may have to start at the bottom with younger people. If military retirees are to adjust successful to the transition to the private sector, the case for their retiring early may be stronger for military employees than for the workforce in general.

All of which opens up planning issues. Many veterans and their spouses face career difficulties following discharge of the active-duty partner, as the rhythm and requirements of military life is replaced by those of civilian life. Re-entering civilian life may be a major adjustment.

The anguish of some discharged soldiers is spilling onto the Internet, as individuals write about their shared experiences in the Middle East theater and inability of civilians to grasp what it was like.

The military services know that the adjustment is not easy and they have been developing programs to address the issues, for example:
  • Helping active-duty personnel find civilian counterparts to their military specialties. 
  • Providing guidance in their search for work. 
  • Coaching veterans interested in becoming entrepreneurs.
The government has been releasing more information on these topics than in the past, thanks to great congressional interest in this subject. Congressional questions include:
  • Where have transitional programs succeeded best? 
  • How do veterans' paychecks and job titles change when they leave military service?
The U.S. Job Market - Weak for Everyone Since 2008

A starting point for appreciating the job market into which soldiers are being discharged is to appreciate how big a hit the American job market took because of the financial-markets crisis that peaked win September 2008 with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

(I started writing this post a year ago and decided to think some more about it before I published it. That is why the next three charts are a year old.)

Employment-Population Ratio, U.S., 2003-2013
Source: BLS Also on FRED 
database. Paul Krugman commented on his blog. Latest 2014 data show the
ratio has climbed to 59 percent, still four percentage points below 2007.
The number I would like to focus on is the ratio of the number of employed people relative to the population.

This ratio jumps around less than the unemployment number because it does not depend on the survey answers of a relatively small sample of households about which members of the household are described as "unemployed". 

The employment figures are not affected by answers to Census workers about variations in who is able to work, who is actively looking and who is prevented from working by school or care for a family member.

As shown in the chart above for all U.S. workers, the employment-population ratio was in the 62-63 percent range through mid-2008. Then it fell precipitously as the financial meltdown occurred. It has remained in the doldrums in the 58-59 percent range since the second half of 2009. That's a four-point drop.

The Different Job Experience of Male and Female Veterans

How do the employment-population ratios look for veterans? The "population" number could be computed a number of different ways, but the comparisons within the age cohorts should not be greatly affected by the way of population is defined, provided it is consistent.

The basic conclusion from the data for male veterans is that they are dropping out of the labor force in 2013 compared with 2012. Why? It's just one year's change, but here are some possibilities:
  • Veterans of more distant wars may be dropping out because their skills are less in demand.
  • Veterans of the Gulf War-era II - i.e., the most recently discharged veterans - are dropping out of the work force most significantly, meaning perhaps that the psychological wounds are most serious for them. 
  • Gulf War-Era I veterans, i.e., veterans of the pre-2001 Gulf War, are showing an increase. This could mean eventual adjustment of veterans after discharge, or a greater need for the leadership skills developed during military service later in life. 
  • The numbers could also mean something else, that preparedness for violence is not perceived as a big plus for young men entering most parts of the civilian workplace, and it is not therefore an asset in looking for work.
    Employment-Population Ratio by Service Era
Male Vets vs. Non-Vets, % (BLS Table A-5)
Source: BLS Table A-5, October 22, 2013 (
Women veterans, however, are increasing their presence in the labor force. All of their numbers are up. The Gulf War I veterans are again doing the best, with a 10.5 percentage point increase in their participation. Why are the numbers different from those for male veterans?
  • Preparedness for violence may be seen as more of a big plus for women who have to work on night duty, or with customers who could be violent, or with co-workers who are men and may have difficulty adjusting to a female supervisor.
  • Because fewer women go into military service, they are pre-selected as being willing to be different. This fact alone may be viewed positively by a civilian employer.
  • These advantages in the civilian work force show up most clearly among Gulf War-era I veterans. It may be that younger female veterans are more likely than older ones to have skills that are  transferable to a civilian job from active-duty service.
Employment-Population Ratio by Service Era 
Female Vets vs. Non-Vets, % (BLS Table A-5)
Source: BLS Table A-5, October 22, 2013 (
These conclusions are speculative, but may be useful in addressing a real problem. Since I have limited time to work on this topic, I am posting these thoughts with the idea that someone else might be inspired to pick up on them. Do the 2014 data show a continuing trend? (The veterans'  numbers are published in detail every year.) 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

WW1 | Tower of London Memorial

"Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red", an installation by Paul Cummins
and a team of volunteers to remember British soldiers who fell in the
Great War.
The British have set the standard for remembering their dead.

A London art installation features a Red Sea of 888,246 ceramic poppies - one for every British and Commonwealth soldier who died during World War I. It is shown at left.

The poppy became a symbol of World War I dead and Armistice Day because of "In Flanders Fields", the great poem by the Canadian John McCrae who was a battlefield physician in Belgium in 1915.  An excellent video with readings from War Poets appears here.

Most of the poppies were laid in the moat of the Tower of London throughout the summer by the artist Paul Cummins and more than 100 volunteer assistants.

The installation was opened in August, 100 years after the first hostilities of World War I. The last flower will be planted on November 11, Armistice Day, 1918.