Sunday, December 18, 2011


Nothing much grabbed me at Watching America yesterday. I attribute that to the holiday doldrums engulfing us all. One article worth noting, however, came from the UK's Economist. It's a timely piece, especially given the formal ending of the war in Iraq when seen against the backdrop of the US economy.

Around 800,000 veterans are jobless, 1.4m live below the poverty line, and one in every three homeless adult men in America is a veteran. Though the overall unemployment rate among America’s 21m veterans in November (7.4%) was lower than the national rate (8.6%), for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan it was 11.1%. And for veterans between the ages of 18 and 24, it was a staggering 37.9%, up from 30.4% just a month earlier.

If demography is indeed destiny, perhaps this figure should not be surprising. More soldiers are male than female, and the male jobless rate exceeds women’s. Since so many soldiers lack a college degree, the fact that the recession has been particularly hard on the less educated hits veterans disproportionately. Large numbers of young veterans work—or worked—in stricken industries such as manufacturing and construction. Whatever the cause, this bleak trend is occurring as the last American troops leave Iraq at the end of this year, and as more than 1m new veterans are expected to join the civilian labour force over the next four years.

And of course it is also occurring in fiscally straitened times, though it looks as though this will affect veterans’ services less than other parts of the federal government. Though there have been some small fee increases for veterans covered by Tricare, the military health-insurance programme, significant cuts to veterans’ benefits are unlikely, and for good reason. Military pay is far from generous, and the benefits are comprehensive but hardly gold-plated or easy to navigate. Not for nothing is a popular online forum for veterans wending their way through the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) called

Those numbers are staggering, yet hardly surprising. Many of these young men and young women don't have post-high school educations, nor did they receive transferable skills while in service. There have been some moves to ease the transition, most notably the recent passage of one sliver of the president's jobs bill that gives employers tax credits for hiring unemployed or disabled veterans. Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of the necessary highlighting of the psychological scars soldiers returning from combat carry has been to make employers somewhat leery of hiring the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq because they just might be walking time bombs. Tax credits may not offset that concern.

The biggest obstacle, however, is the economy. Joblessness overall remains stubbornly high and likely will continue into at least the next few years unless Congress and the White House "pivot" and start pumping money into programs that will benefit the 99% instead of the banksters. That hardly seems likely, given the contentious attitudes in Washington during an election year. The prevailing mantra is "cut the budget", which makes government spending to prime the pump out of the question.

As a result, veterans are returning home to little more than a handshake and some well-wishes, which neither feed nor house them and their families. That's cold comfort at any time of year, but especially so during the holiday season.

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