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Vet unemployment drops again in May, beating nation's unemployment rate

Jun. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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The unemployment rate for the latest generation of veterans dropped significantly in May, falling a point below a steady national unemployment rate, government data show.

While statisticians caution against drawing conclusions from any one month’s jobs report, the May unemployment rate of 5.3 percent for post-9/11 veterans continues a notable three-month trend that has culminated in a new low for the measure.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has records available for this rate going back only to September 2008, and none are as low as 5.3 percent. November 2008’s rate of 5.6 percent is the closest.

The nation as a whole tacked on 217,000 jobs in May, as the unemployment rate remained at 6.3 percent, the same as in April.

“For post-9/11 vets, this is the lowest number that’s ever been recorded,” said Jacqueline Maffucci, research director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA. But with America’s presence in Afghanistan winding down and many more troops about to come home, it’s not time to “declare victory” with respect to vet employment, she added.

“We’re going to be seeing about 20,000 [vets] coming home. That just adds to the importance of making sure that we’re continuing to focus on hiring initiatives for new vets,” Maffucci said in a telephone interview.

May’s unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets was down a point and a half from April’s 6.8 percent and down a full two points from the May 2013 rate of 7.3 percent.

This drop comes amid high-profile pushes to help such vets find work, coming from the White House, Walmart, a broad coalition of companies led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and many others across the private and public sectors.

“We have hired veterans at every career stage and in every part of our company, from stores and distribution centers to the home office and Walmart.com,” Bill Simon, Walmart’s U.S. president and CEO, said in a statement. “Veterans bring invaluable skills including leadership, commitment and hard work, which make our workforce even stronger.”

Late last month, the company announced that it has hired more than 42,000 veterans since its Memorial Day 2013 pledge to offer a job to any recently discharged vet.

Shortly before that, the JPMorgan-led coalition, dubbed the 100,000 Jobs Mission, announced that the companies involved have hired a combined 140,832 vets as of the end of March. The group has doubled its goal and now hopes to hire 200,000 vets.

The sample size for the post-9/11 veteran unemployment rate is much smaller than the sample used to calculate the national unemployment rate. As a result, it can fluctuate dramatically, so BLS officials suggest focusing on broader employment trends rather than any single month’s jobs report.

IAVA’s Maffucci said it’s hard to tell to what extent the apparent drop in post-9/11 unemployment is due to national economic trends, vet hiring initiatives or inaccuracies that may result from the sample. For instance, she said, the number doesn’t account for veterans who are disabled, in school or gave up looking for work.

“It’s really hard to know what’s driving the numbers down, which is why I think we still need to remain focused on continuing to hire,” she said.

For veterans of all generations, the May unemployment rate dropped to 5 percent, down from April’s 5.6 percent and the May 2013 rate of 6.6 percent.

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