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.) 

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