The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released unemployment numbers for February this morning and the numbers were surprisingly encouraging for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans. While the national unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 from January to February, the unemployment rate for new veterans dropped from an already relatively low 9.1 percent in January to 7.6 percent - and was lower than the national average for the first time since August 2010. There are many possibilities for this dramatic fall, including the aging of the new veteran population and the national push to hire veterans. It is also possible that because of the small sample size BLS uses, this is just an anomaly that will not continue in the next few months.
Age has been a defining factor in new veteran unemployment during the past few years. Although Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans of all ages had higher unemployment rates than the national average in 2011, younger veterans were hit hardest. In 2011, the average unemployment rate for new veterans aged 18-24 was 30.2 percent, almost twice the national average of 16.3 percent. Such a difference implies that there are reasons that new vets are having trouble finding work that are different from their civilian peers.
Education likely plays a key role, as the youngest veterans are less likely than civilians to have a college degree. For all Americans, higher education means a better chance at employment. On average in 2011, Americans with less than a high school diploma had a 16.6 percent unemployment rate, compared to an 11 percent rate for high school graduates, 8.6 percent for those with some college or an associate degree and 4.5 percent for college graduates. Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans with a high school degree had a 16.4 percent unemployment rate in 2011; if they had part of a college education, the rate went down to 13.4 percent, with an Associate degree the rate was 11.9 percent, and with a full college education (undergraduate or higher) the rate was 6.3 percent.