Female military vets make jobs gains, but still lag behind

In recent years the U.S. government and corporate America have made a massive push to hire veterans, but not all former military service members are seeing the full benefit of these efforts.

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the jobless rate for post-9/11 female veterans was 8.5 percent in 2014, higher than the 6.9 percent rate for their male counterparts.

A job seeker speaks with an employer at the Veterans On Wall Street job fair in New York, U.S., on Thursday, June 21, 2012.
Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images

It's a discrepancy that matters more now than ever. In 2014, there were 3.2 million post-9/11 veterans in the United States, and 20 percent of them were women. By comparison, women accounted for only 4 percent of veterans from the era that includes World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

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Business and government efforts to boost veteran hiring have had successes, bringing the post-9/11 veterans unemployment rate down from its 12.1 percent high in 2011, to 7.2 percent in 2014. Still, veterans continue to suffer higher unemployment—and it's worse for women. Female veterans' jobless rates also lag behind their nonveteran female peers, who had an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in 2014.

"Female veterans tend to be young, and young people tend to have higher unemployment rates," said a BLS spokesperson. Another widely accepted explanation is that women vets tend to bear the brunt of more child care responsibilities than their male counterparts.

Fixing the problem

Widening skills gap stalls jobs growth
Widening skills gap stalls jobs growth

Despite the challenges, however, a combination of forces from government, educational institutions and corporations are combating the problem.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to focus on the recruitment and hiring of veterans for government jobs.

On Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank created Veterans on Wall Street in 2012 in order to give former military personnel a foot in the door to the corporate world. Other veterans organizations such as Hiring our Heroes and Be a Hero, Hire a Hero partner with schools and other businesses to hold job fairs and workshops.

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Those efforts account for only a tiny portion of the overall push, however, and it's not all gloom and doom for female veterans, according to a 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report.

"While women veterans have a higher unemployment rate," the report said, "those who attend school and/or secure an employment opportunity are faring better than their non-veteran counterparts."

Rebecca Miller Pringle, 46, is a Gulf War-era veteran who cares for a 3-year-old daughter afflicted with cancer. Pringle attended the Be a Hero, Hire a Hero job fair at Berkeley College in Woodland Park, New Jersey, last week, hoping to find an employer that understands the special challenges she faces.

"It's a big part of the package," Pringle said. She said she's lost two jobs because of the time she must dedicate to taking care of her daughter, attending chemotherapy and going to doctor appointments.

Despite having a master's degree in public administration from Central Michigan University, Pringle has had to turn to the Department of Veterans Affairs and other organizations to assist with housing issues.

"I like the VA, they have been good to me," said Pringle. "They helped me out with a financial grant for housing, through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program."

(Veterans are) used to the elements, around-the-clock operations, have a great work ethic and are organized.
Susan Winfree
VP of workforce development, New York Shipping Association

Pringle was also assisted by Vantage Health System's Opening Doors program, which finds permanent housing and offers support services to homeless families with school-age children. "They only had two slots open; it was a blessing," she said.

The New York Shipping Association, which represents the marine cargo industry, was among attendees at the Berkeley College job fair looking to hire veterans. The association's vice president of workforce development, Susan Winfree, said the NYSA has hired 300 veterans for union positions as of 2014 and plans to hire more.

"They're used to the elements, around-the-clock operations, have a great work ethic and are organized," Winfree said. "We appreciate all of those things, but mostly their service. It's a good fit."

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The shipping industry jobs available typically start at $20 an hour and "There's always overtime," she said. Winfree said she is always hopeful she will see more female veterans interested in the positions, but typically gets more interest from men.

"We thought we would see more female applicants than we have," she said, "and hope that we see more as we continue hiring our veterans."

Since 2008, the worst year on record for post-9/11 veterans was 2011, when their annualized unemployment rate reached 12.1 percent. January 2011 was the worst month for male veterans, with unemployment hitting 15.5 percent. December 2011 was the worst month for female veterans, with the unemployment hitting a staggering 21.1 percent.