WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate last year for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans hit 21.1 percent, the Labor Department said Friday, reflecting a tough obstacle combat veterans face as they make the transition home from war.
The number was well above the 16.6 percent jobless rate for non-veterans of the same ages, 18 to 24.
As of last year, 1.9 million had deployed for the wars since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some have struggled with mental health problems, addictions, and homelessness as they return home. Difficulty finding work can make the adjustment harder.
The just-released rate for young veterans was significantly higher than the unemployment rate of young veterans in that age group (14.1 percent) in 2008.
Many of the unemployed are members of the Guard and Reserves who have deployed multiple times, said Joseph Sharpe, director of the economic division at the American Legion. Sharpe said some come home to find their jobs have been eliminated because the company has downsized. Other companies may not want to hire someone who could deploy again or will have medical appointments because of war-related health problems, he said.
“It’s a horrible environment because if you’re a reservist and you’re being deployed two or three times in a five-year period, you know you’re less competitive,” Sharpe said. “Many companies that are already hurting are reluctant to hire you and time kind of moves on once you’re deployed.”
One veteran looking for work is Dario DiBattista, 26, of Abingdon, Md., a graduate student who did two tours in Iraq in the Marine Reserves with a civil affairs unit. He said he’s found that a lot of military skills don’t readily transfer into the workplace, and in many cases, there aren’t jobs to apply for even if companies want to hire veterans.
“If you don’t have a strong family support system … it’s hard to get over the hump to make the decision of where you’re going to live, what you do for work, where you’re going to go to school, if you can even qualify to get into school,” DiBattista said.
For veterans of all ages from the recent wars, the unemployment rate in 2009 was 10.2 percent. Historically, younger veterans have had more difficulty than their older counterparts finding a job because they often have less training and job experience. Some joined the military right out of high school.
One possible solution is to make it easier for veterans to transfer certifications they have for jobs they did in the military into the civilian workforce, Sharpe said.
The Labor and Veterans Affairs departments have a variety of programs addressing the problem. The hope is that one program, the Post-9/11 GI Bill rolled out last year, will be particularly effective. Under it, $78 billion is expected to be paid out in education benefits over the next decade for veterans of the recent wars to attend school.
The national unemployment rate last year was 9.3 percent, the highest since 1983.