Service members practice job interviewing techniques during a pre-separation seminar at the Russell Marine and Family Services Center aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. The seminar is one of many resources offered through the Transition Assistance Management Program to help service members and families who are retiring or transitioning from the Marine Corps to civilian life. (Cpl. Jo Jones/Marine Corps)
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A new study offers surprising insights about Marines’ use of unemployment compensation and education benefits once they leave the Corps, and has inspired creation of a calculator that can help determine who may need greater assistance transitioning to civilian life.
The study, conducted by CNA’s Center for Naval Analyses and published late last year, determined that Marines in combat service support jobs with little deployment experience are most likely to collect unemployment assistance upon leaving the service. Marine officials met that conclusion with some amazement.
“Conventional wisdom was that Marines who more frequently deployed and were in combat arms [military occupational specialties] are more likely to draw unemployment compensation,” said Shawn P. Conlon, the Personal and Professional Development Branch head at Manpower and Reserve Affairs’ Marine and Family Readiness Division, the department that commissioned the study. “In fact, there was more of a correlation between Marines in non-combat arms MOSs and Marines who had deployed less who were actually receiving unemployment compensation.”
Marines in combat arms jobs also are more likely to use education benefits than those Marines in combat service support, said Shannon Desrosiers, the CNA research analyst who authored the study, titled “Veteran Unemployment of Transitioning Marines.” However, precisely why that’s the case is not black and white, she said.
For starters, Desrosiers said, those who don’t claim unemployment compensation from the Defense Department may not be gainfully employed. It could be, she added, that infantry Marines and others with combat arms backgrounds have an aversion to handouts — or that the personalities drawn to combat arms are more likely to formulate plans and take decisive action, which would lead to a smoother transition out of the military.
Unlike combat arms Marines, those in combat service support jobs are less likely to claim educational benefits even though they were more likely to claim unemployment, the study determined. That includes Marines in the food service, utilities and administration fields, suggesting they seek employment that matches the skills they acquired in the military.
And although many of those disciplines translate well to civilian jobs, positions may be few and far between in some parts of the country, meaning the Marine Corps may need to focus on helping those Marines relocate to regions with healthy job markets in their specialty, Desrosiers said.
During her research, she found that the unemployment rate in states to which Marines move after leaving active duty have heavy influence on their likelihood of claiming unemployment. Other factors likely to contribute: being young, nonwhite, female, married and having children. And those statistics are mostly on par with nonveteran populations across the U.S.
Also of note, the study found that Marines with a single deployment are more likely to collect unemployment than those with no time downrange and those who’ve made several trips to the war zone. That could be because those with a single deployment had time to learn about benefits while in the military and needed time to decompress after exiting, while those with many deployments may not have had time to learn about such benefits, Desrosiers said.
Combat support and aviation support Marines were those least likely to claim both unemployment and education benefits, suggesting the skills acquired while doing those jobs help with a quick transition to civilian employment, Desrosiers said.
Helping those at risk
To help identify those who may need more assistance, CNA developed an unemployment assistance calculator that military transition planners can use to identify those most at risk for unemployment based on their demographic profile.
“All service members need help, but some will need more because they are less prepared or because their characteristics are seen as having a higher probability of collecting unemployment,” Desrosiers said. “Transition planners could see that they have a higher probability and refer them for additional transition assistance.”
The study’s findings are drawn from data predating the Marine Corps’ significant overhaul of its transition assistance programs.
The service unveiled its Transition Readiness Seminar in November 2012 to encourage Marines to begin thinking about their transition to civilian life earlier and providing them with individualized TRS tracks depending on whether they intend to pursue a job, schooling, vocational training or start their own business.
Conlon said he is confident the revisions have done much to help Marines make realistic plans that will help them succeed after leaving the service, and that could reduce the number of service members claiming unemployment benefits in the future. Despite these changes, it is incumbent on Marines to develop and pursue goals, he said.
“We can help Marines figure out where they are and where they want to be,” he said. “But ultimately they have to take individual action to make that happen.”