Education and Transition

Veterans unemployment down for third month in a row, but still double pre-pandemic levels

The veterans unemployment rate fell for a third month in a row in July but still sits nearly double the level recorded before the pandemic started.

On Friday, officials from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate among veterans fell to 7.9 percent last month, based on its monthly employment surveys. That figure translates into about 700,000 veterans looking for work.

In June, that number was 8.6 percent. In April, the first full month of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, the number was 11.7 percent, the highest monthly rate recorded by the agency in at least the last 20 years.

Even with the recent improvements, the veterans unemployment rate for last month was still more than double the level recorded in February (3.6 percent), the last full month before the pandemic forced the temporary and permanent closure of thousands of businesses across the country.

As recently as December, the rate was less than 3 percent.

Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped from 11.1 percent in June to 10.2 percent in July. That figure swelled to nearly 15 percent in April.

About 6.5 million Americans have been unemployed for 15 weeks or more, according to BLS officials. The 11.1 percent rate translates into about 16 million job seekers.

Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan War era also saw their rate drop from 10.3 percent in June to 8.2 percent in July. Those younger veterans have typically lagged behind the veterans population as a whole in finding work, and also trailed the country as a whole at several points in recent years.

Earlier this week, a group of bipartisan lawmakers urged House leaders to include a new veterans retraining proposal in their next coronavirus relief package, noting that many industries with high rates of veteran employees have been hit hard by the ongoing health crisis.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had the lowest veteran unemployment rate in 20 years,” said House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “We owe it to our veterans to do everything we can do to get back there again.”

The proposal — the Veterans Economic Recovery Act of 2020 — passed out of committee late last month and would grant veterans who lost their jobs due to pandemic-related layoffs an extra year of GI Bill benefits for rapid retraining in new, “high demand” career fields.

The program would only be open to 35,000 veterans. Those already using other veteran education benefits would not be eligible.

The idea has gained backing of 17 veteran advocacy groups and several key members of the Senate, but passing the measure as stand-alone legislation could prove difficult given the shortened congressional schedule this year due to the election.

Congress is scheduled to break in coming days for a summer recess, then again for most of October and November as lawmakers deal with their re-election campaigns.

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