Maine DOL report looks at veterans work force, unemployment rates

A new report from the Maine Department of Labor found that the veteran population in the state had an overall unemployment rate of 7.6 percent in 2011, slightly more than the overall unemployment rate of 7.4 percent.

However, veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, the department found.

The department took on the study to put some numbers around the issue of unemployed veterans in Maine.

“There is much attention focused nationally on the challenges veterans face in the labor market, particularly veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the authors wrote. “In response, federal government, state and local governments, advocacy groups, businesses, and others are making efforts to assist veterans in their job search.”

Recently, the Portland Regional Chamber launched The Portland Veterans Network, a program that focuses on jobs, education, wellness and opportunities. It works with a variety of partner organizations to help unemployed vets access and navigate health care programs and further their education. It also provides free membership to the Portland Regional Chamber and lets the veterans choose business mentors who will work with them on job skills, and applying their military experience to civilian work, resumes, interviewing and networking.

Gov. Paul LePage last week signed legislation directing the commissioner of Professional and Financial Regulation to recommend legislation or other measures to the governor and the Legislature to assist veterans get professional licenses in Maine related to their military training and experience.

According to the ME DOL report, there were 132,000 veterans in Maine accounting for 13.2 percent of the total civilian population 20 years of age and older in 2011, which is the fourth highest percentage in the country.

Slightly more than 50 percent of veterans (68,000) participated in the labor force, either working (63,000) or looking for work (5,000) in 2011.

There were approximately 9,000 Gulf War II Era veterans in the labor force in 2011, of which 8,000 were employed and 1,000 unemployed, with an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent. Gulf War II encompasses both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“Maine veterans lately have recorded an unemployment rate above the nonveteran statewide average. In the recessionary period of the early 2000s the veteran unemployment rate exceeded the nonveteran rate,” the authors wrote. “The veteran rate was at or below the nonveteran rate from 2003 through 2009. Both rates rose as the recession began, with the veteran rate exceeding the nonveteran rate in 2010 and 2011.”

However, researchers found, “As unemployment rates rose, the impact appeared to be most severe on younger veterans. Between 2005-2007 and 2008-2010, the unemployment rate for veterans age 18-34 rose 9.6 percentage points.

For each age group, the authors wrote, the veteran unemployment rate was higher than the nonveteran rate with the exception of the 65 and over group. And that high unemployment rate in the young veterans (18-34) group results in part from the higher unemployment rate experienced by younger workers in general, they noted. However, the unemployment rate for young veterans was also higher than the unemployment rate for young nonveterans.

So why the difference in rates between vets and non-vets?

“One likely reason for veteran rates exceeding nonveteran rates is the change in industry jobs. Prior to the recession, veterans were more likely to be employed in manufacturing than nonveterans – a sector hard hit by job loss during the recession,” the authors suggested. “Veterans also were less likely to be employed in education and health services – one of the few sectors to record job gains.”