I worry over the hundreds of thousands of veterans returning home, and those who are already there. The headlines tell of an improving employment picture, but the statistics – the real statistics – tell another story.
A year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate for 18-24 year old veterans at a whopping 31.3%. A year later, in January of 2014, that unemployment rate has declined to 11.9%. Sounds like a success story. What you do not hear is that 36% of veterans in that age group have dropped out of the workforce completely, and are not counted in unemployment rates.
Think about that for a minute. These are healthy, young men and women who have already worked, know what it means to show up each day for a job, and understand self-discipline and service. Combined with the ranks of the officially unemployed, a full 43% of 18-24 year old veterans are not working at all. In real numbers, that translates into 93,000 young, capable men and women who are staying home. With all due respect to the headlines, that is not good news.
And that’s not all.
3/4 of all disabled veterans (defined by the Department of Labor as having a disability rating of greater than 60%) have dropped out of the workforce.
17 veterans committed suicide each day in 2011. Today, that number has increased to 22 per day.
If they decide to go to school, they have somewhere between a 50 to 88 percent chance of dropping out in their first year (depending on which study you believe).
According to the VA, about a hundred thousand veterans are homeless on any given night.
I have followed BLS statistics for the last couple of years, and they vary dramatically month-to-month. It is dangerous to draw conclusions from one or two reports. But the last couple of years’ worth of statistics reveal a tragic story that will become more acute if we do not take on the challenge head on.
I work with a nonprofit that deals with severely wounded veterans, and its approach is to wrap an army of volunteers (mentors, counselors, advisors) around each returning veteran. As a recent USA today article says, that approach is bucking the nationwide trends.
Each community has an obligation to welcome its veterans back home, not by sticking yellow ribbons on bumpers, but by shepherding them back into the workforce. How the communities do that is up to them.
But they have to do it. Our returning veterans deserve it.