We celebrate Veteran’s Day by honoring the sacrifices the men and women of our military have made. Yet it is equally important to honor their service by ensuring that they have routes to economic security when they return from their service. However, this latter celebration is still not a reality for all veterans.
Recently released US Bureau of Labor Statistics data highlights some significant challenges that women veterans face upon their return. While the good news is that the overall unemployment rate fell for male and female veterans over the past year, the bad news is that the unemployment rate for Gulf-War era II veterans remained strikingly high. And even more troubling is that within that group the unemployment rate for women is almost double that of male veterans (6.2 percent for men and 11.2 percent for women).
This data is quite alarming. Younger female veterans are returning from their service only to find themselves without jobs and far from economic security. This is unacceptable. We need to invest in employment and training programs, along with supportive services, that provide routes for female veterans to transition to career pathways. One such route is access to nontraditional occupations (NTO)—such as those in the sciences, building trades, and technology. Women continue to be underrepresented in these fields, and these are industries that offer economic opportunities. Women veterans are particularly poised to succeed in these training programs and jobs. Many of the technical expertises they mastered while in military service could transfer to work in NTO. In addition, women veterans have also gained important skills navigating a traditionally male workplace, and prepare them for NTO.
So yes, we should celebrate our veterans’ accomplishments today, but tomorrow we need to fight for their economic security on the home front. The new unemployment data—with its clear gender disparities—must be a call to action for all of us to work to ensure that on Veterans Day in 2015 we will have lowered veteran’s unemployment rates and closed the significant gender unemployment rate gap. The best celebration will be that of true economic security for the women who have sacrificed so much.