News Column

Unemployment Hits Minority Veterans Hard

Oct. 23, 2012

Mike Kernels, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

Veterans

It's a different kind of battle they're waging now.

There are roughly 242,500 of them.

Men and women.

Black, white and Hispanic.

Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines.

Overseas, they fought for their country.

Now home, they fight for work.

This is what it means to be a veteran today.

Since 2001, roughly 2.5 million have served across the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have been discharged.

Their current unemployment rate is 9.7 percent -- well above the national average of 7.8 percent.

That's why you're seeing the number of veterans job fairs and career expos popping up these days across the Triad.

The reasons why veterans can't find work are varied, experts say.

Many lost jobs because of company closings and layoffs.

Others found they can't compete in a market loaded with experience.

Some don't know how to market their skills.

Veterans groups charge that the disabled are being particularly ignored.

Whatever the reason, their military service, in one way or another, isn't exactly helping veterans get jobs -- and it may even be hurting them.

"It baffles me," admits Dedrick Curtis, who spent six years in the Navy before becoming UNCG's veteran services coordinator. "You would think they would have an advantage because of their experience in the military."

Structure. Discipline. Respect.

The same qualities that make a good soldier should also be desirable to potential employers.

But for recent veterans -- soldiers who've served across the world since 2001 -- it hasn't worked out that way.

In states such as Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, the unemployment rate has been as high as 11 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

North Carolina's rate of 8.3 percent places it in the middle of the spectrum.

That's still too high for some.

"We're just trying to get our veterans employed," says John Scragg, a veterans employment consultant with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and a former Army medic. "They made a sacrifice. They served. They gave up a part of their life."

When a soldier gets discharged, they're briefed on how to transition from military to civilian life.

Among the tips given: how to receive benefits, qualify for insurance and apply for home loans.

And find jobs.

But with an unemployment rate that has hovered around 9 percent for the better part of three years, it's been tough on everyone -- even more so for certain segments within the veteran population.

Across the board, their unemployment rate is significantly higher than for civilians, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For veterans, ages 20 to 24: 14.5 percent (12.1 percent for nonveterans).

For black veterans: 14.6 percent (12.5 percent for nonveterans).

For female veterans: 19.9 percent (7 percent for nonveterans).

"A lot don't have transferrable skills," believes Jamaal Muhammad, local commander of the National Association for Black Veterans, a group that helps soldiers deal with life after service. "How are (employers) going to use a man when all he can do is jump out of a plane?"

And therein lies the problem, Muhammad contends. Many recruits don't think about their future when they enlist.

Being, say, a mechanic in the military means you could be one later as a civilian.

"We tell guys when they go to the recruiter," Muhammad says, "do something more than be stuck in the infantry."

Still, being in the military isn't the career it once was. Federal studies place the average retention rate between four and eight years, mostly because soldiers enter wanting to take advantage of the GI Bill.

Once discharged, they're finding the education and training they earned don't immediately translate into a paycheck.

Locally, you can find evidence of that at the Disabled American Veterans chapter, where you can hear any number of stories about corporate and societal neglect towards veterans.

Former Marine Bill Ash has been outspoken in his disappointment.

"They're kicking us to the curb," said Ash, 79. "Veterans should be first on the list."

Contact Mike Kernels at 373-7120 or mike.kernels@news-record.com

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Source: (c) 2012 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)


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