A Deep Look at the Data: How Are Veterans Doing in Today’s Workforce?

In the past few years veteran employment has been brought to the forefront of hiring conversations, in part because of Joining Forces — a national initiative that aims to provide employment, education and wellness services to U.S. military veterans. Through this program, more than 50 companies have pledged to hire more than 110,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.

In partnership with Joining Forces, Indeed Military offers free resources to help employers connect with veterans and military spouses who are looking for jobs. Since last Veteran’s Day, more than 4,900 employers have used Indeed Resume to search for candidates with military experience and made more than 250,000 contacts to job seekers as a result.

As we approach Veterans Day 2016, what can we say about how veterans are doing in today’s labor market? A deep look at the data from government sources and Indeed can give us understanding of what employment outcomes look like for former service members in the US economy.

Currently, according to the Census Bureau, veterans make up 7.6% of the US population. As a group, veterans tend to be older and male: the median age is 64, compared to 37 for non-veterans, and 91.6% are men. Veterans are less likely to have a bachelor’s degree but have a higher median income, $38,334 compared to $27,248 for non-veterans.

Overall, the unemployment rate for former service members is lower than civilians. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics gives us a better view of this trend over time. In the wake of the recession, veteran unemployment peaked at 9.9% in January 2011. That figure has steadily declined to 4.3% as of October 2016, lower than the overall US unemployment rate of 4.9%.

Unemployment rate in October, aged 18 years and older

Year Veterans All
2009 8.1 10
2010 8.3 9.4
2011 7.7 8.8
2012 6.3 7.8
2013 6.9 7.2
2014 4.5 5.7
2015 3.9 5
2016 4.3 4.9

Of course, looking at these figures overall is only part of the picture. Labor market outcomes can vary significantly for different age groups.

For those who served during the Gulf War II era for example, which includes veterans who have served since September 2001, post-recession unemployment rates were concerningly high at times — 15.2% in January 2011. We might expect these younger vets to have higher jobless rates as younger workers generally experience more unemployment, but 15.2% was far higher than the average youth unemployment at the time (9.3% for those aged 25–34).

In the last five years, however, the employment situation for veterans has markedly improved. The unemployment rate for Gulf War II Era veterans is down to is 4.4%, significantly lower than the unemployment rate for all 25–34-year-olds, which stands at 5.1%.

Veterans’ occupational preferences

What jobs are service members most likely to take after transitioning back to civilian life? We can answer this question with data from the Census Bureau, gathered through their American Community Survey, which asks respondents to indicate their veteran status and current occupation.

We can…

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