06 October 2011

The Sucking Sound in Hooverville

Sgt. Schlitz is back from Bagram, and looking for work. The Eastern Iowa toy company for which he'd previously worked has been limping along in the bad economy. He re-joined the U.S. Army after a 21-year break in service, and deployed to Afghanistan with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.) 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. He's got management and marketing experience, a hearty Midwestern work ethic, and a dogged sense of humor.

"Al Jazeera is hiring a graphic designer," he joked recently on his Facebook page. "Would that be a conflict of interest?"

According to Iowa National Guard officials, approximately 25 percent of the Red Bull soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan didn't have civilian jobs to which to return. By comparison, as of August 2011, the overall unemployment rate in Iowa is 6.1 percent.

The quick math? In round numbers, out of a 3,000-member brigade combat team, approximately 750 are without civilian employment. In the military, that's larger than the size of a battalion. In the civilian world--at least by the Small Business Administration's (SBA) definition--that's "large business" territory.

If a 25-percent unemployment bomb were to explode in the vicinity of a single Iowa town, you'd be looking at some significant economic damage. Because Iowa's citizen-soldiers are spread across the state, however, adding 750 more job-seekers to the state's pool of 101,900 unemployed workers doesn't exactly seem like a flood.

In other words, it's easy for people to say "thank you for your service." It's harder for people to see that there may be a systemic problem when it comes to keeping citizen-soldiers gainfully employed when they're not being deployed.

"I've never met someone who didn't want to help," says Saber2th, who is engaged in his own post-deployment job search. For 24 months prior to his own deployment to Afghanistan, he was on temporary full-time active-duty--while helping the 2-34th BCT prepare for deployment. Now, that mission is over, and the budget money that went with it is gone. "Everybody says civilian employers understand how military skills and attitudes benefit them. Everybody says employers will follow the law, and won't discriminate based on membership in the National Guard. Beyond that, no one seems to know what to do. Job fairs and resume-writing classes can only get soldiers so far."

The funny thing is, Saber2th is pretty sure he could market his specialized military skills elsewhere in the states. Arizona, say--or maybe Virginia. But that would most likely be military-contract work, and the wars can't go on forever. Besides, like Schlitz, he'd like to keep his young family in Iowa.

As a hardworking, capable taxpayer who has repeatedly answered the call of country (two overseas deployments) and community (during the floods of 2008), his fellow Iowans should want to keep him there, too.

Of course, unemployment in the ranks isn't just an Iowa problem: Consider that, in 2010, 20 percent of Vermont's 86th BCT returned to unemployment after the Iowa's Red Bull soldiers took over the mission in Eastern Afghanistan. At the time, Vermont's overall unemployment rate was 7 percent.

According to a recent Army news release, Florida's 53rd BCT returned from a 2010 deployment with 39 percent unemployment.

Following an August presidential announcement on veterans-employment initiatives, a White House press release noted:
  • As of June, one million veterans were unemployed and the jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans was 13.3 percent. [National unemployment rate at the time was around 9.1 percent.]
  • These veterans tend to be young and many worked in sectors that were among the hardest hit by the recession. Post-9/11 veterans were more likely to be employed in mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities—all industries that experienced significant drops in employment during 2008-2009.
  • And as we end the war in Iraq and wind down the war in Afghanistan, over one million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016.
Some cranks and wags will argue that there is nothing new here, that the poor are always with us, and so are jobless veterans. (Forget the Alamo and forget the Maine--anyone remember Hooverville?) According to a Pew Research Center report published this week:
More than eight-in-ten (84 percent) of these modern-era veterans say the American public has little or no understanding of the problems that those in the military face. Most of the public (71 percent) agrees. Many Americans also acknowledge that since the 9/11 attacks, the military and their families have made more sacrifices than the public at large. But even among this group, only 26 percent say this gap is "unfair," while 70 percent say that it's "just part of being in the military."
Seventy percent of America to veterans: "Welcome home. Embrace the suck."


A Veteran’s Job and Resource Fair will be held today, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Iowa National Guard Armory Complex in Iowa City. Sponsored by Iowa City Area Development, more than 50 employers and veterans resource providers will be present. A pre-event workshop, "How to Work a Job Fair," will be conducted 3:30 p.m. at the some location. For more information, click here. For a PDF brochure, click here.


As part of a wider reorganization of the state's employment offices, 42 computer-based "access points" to Iowa Workforce Development services have been installed in Iowa National Guard armories.


As part of a comprehensive veterans employment speech in August 2011, President Barack Obama recently proposed employer tax credits ranging from $2,400 to $$4,800 for each unemployed veteran hired. (An earlier credit of up to $2,400 expired in 2010.) He also proposed similar tax credits for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities, in amounts ranging from $4,800 to $9,600.


Many returning Red Bull soldiers may be using their G.I. Bill benefits, rather than look for work. Reported in a Cedar Rapids Gazette/KCRG-TV9 article earlier this week, approximately one-third of those returning from Afghanistan planned to go to college rather than seek employment.


A statewide "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair for veterans and military spouses will be held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 8, at Hall "C" of Hy-Vee Hall, Des Moines, Iowa. The event is free. Registration is not required, but registrants will receive advance notice of exhibitors. Click here for a registration page. For more information, contact Iowa Workforce Development's Jeff Johnson; jeffrey_johnson AT iwd.iowa.gov; 515.281.9708; Gloria Cano; gloria_cano AT iwd.iowa.gov; 515.281.9649.

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