Despite monthly numbers, veteran unemployment trending down

Despite monthly numbers, veteran unemployment trending down

Veteran unemployment rose five-tenths of a point to 4.8 percent in November 2016 while the national unemployment rate decreased from three-tenths to 4.6 percent, according to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), Office of Economic Opportunity.

While the monthly numbers might be up, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report the annual veteran unemployment rates are trending down:

  • 2013: 6.6%
  • 2014: 5.3%
  • 2015: 4.6%

Veteran unemployment numbers can vary according to reporting category, such as age group or location. While veterans of all ages may face unemployment challenges, one age group appears to struggle more than others. In November, 2016 veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 experienced an 11.7 percent unemployment rate, more than two and half times the national unemployment rate of 4.6 percent.

The real story might be when “unemployment by age group” is combined with the perspective of time. The unemployment rate of veterans ages 18 to 24 was 29.1 percent in 2011. Jump forward to 2015, and the annual average unemployment for the same age group was 13.0 percent. While the 2016 quarterly numbers generally show a downward trend, an 11.7 percent unemployment in November 2016 may signal the fourth quarter of 2016 unemployment rate could finish higher.

Especially relevant are the previous quarterly reporting of unemployment rates in all veteran age groups:

First Quarter 2016   Second Quarter 2016   Third Quarter 2016  
Ages 18-24 10.60% Ages 18 – 24 6.10% Ages 18-24 6.50%
Ages 25-34 6.70% Ages 25-34 5.90% Ages 25-34 6.50%
Ages 35-44 3.50% Ages 35-44 3.40% Ages 35-44 4.20%
Ages 45-54 3.60% Ages 45-54 3.00% Ages 45-54 3.80%
Ages 55+ 4.30% Ages 55+ 3.80% Ages 55+ 4.20%

Young Veterans Versus Young Non-Veterans

Putting the numbers into context — when comparing young veterans who just left the military with same-aged non-veterans, research shows that veterans are more likely to be unemployed than non-veterans. However, that difference decreases with age and with time after separation from military service. These differences can be traced in the tables shown above.

According to a report prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense by the National Defense Research Institute, one theory for veteran unemployment is that veterans are more likely to have left a job (military service), and as a result, are looking for a job in a period of slow economic growth.

There may be other contributing factors, such as the veteran’s location. Several states report veteran unemployment in the double digits — as much as two or almost three times higher than the national average. In addition, states with the highest percentage rates of veteran unemployment reported to date in the fourth quarter of 2016:

November 2016

  • West Virginia 13.7%
  • Washington 10.2%
  • Connecticut 9.6%
  • Pennsylvania 8.8%
  • Alabama 8.5%
October 2016
  • South Carolina 9.3%
  • New Mexico 8.5%
  • Pennsylvania 8.0%
  • Kentucky 7.6%
  • Illinois 7.5%

Previous quarterly reporting of the top five states with the highest veteran unemployment:

First Quarter 2016   Second Quarter 2016   Third Quarter 2016  
Washington, D.C. 10.60% Wisconsin 9.00% Washington, D.C. 9.20%
Illinois 10.40% Oregon 6.90% Louisiana 9.00%
Minnesota 9.60% Delaware 6.70% New York 8.30%
North Dakota 8.10% Wyoming 6.60% Tennessee 6.90%
Mississippi 7.70% Massachusetts 5.50% Oregon 6.70%