On March 21, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its 2011 report on the unemployment situation of Veterans. Unfortunately, some news outlets and Veterans organizations have keyed on a single statistical measure—the mean (average)—that, when taken out of context, is a bit misleading. For that reason, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and note what’s actually happening: While we still have a long way to go, the unemployment rate for Post-9/11 (Gulf War II-era) Veterans is—and has been—in an overall downward trend since January 2010.

In covering the BLS report, one news headline blared, “Unemployment Rises for Afghanistan and Iraq Era Veterans.” Another called the situation “bleak.” And one Veterans organization called the report “discouraging.” But, in fact, these reactions aren’t entirely accurate. Below, charts demonstrate the reason why.

It’s certainly true that the average monthly unemployment rate for Gulf War II-era Veterans was higher in 2011 (12.1 percent) than it was in 2010 (11.6 percent). But devoid of context, this fact can easily be misinterpreted. High numbers during the first half of 2011, coupled with the absence of data from January and February of 2012 drive up the 2011 mean and can make it appear as though unemployment of Iraq- and Afghanistan-era Veterans is rising. However, this is not the case. Rather, if we look at the two charts below, we can see the distinctive downward trend line.

This chart depicts the period from January 2010 through February 2012. We see several upward spikes, but there’s no mistaking which way the overall line is going.

The next chart excludes 2012 data and shows the information for 2010 and 2011—the two years compared by the BLS report. In this chart, the downward trend line is not as pronounced, but it’s definitely oriented that direction.

While the average for 2011 was higher than that of 2010, there is no doubt the same data show an improving unemployment situation for Gulf War II-era Veterans. There’s still much work to do, but through public-private partnerships and administration initiatives like Joining Forces and the Veterans Job Corps, we’ll continue striving to drive that number down until every Veteran who wants to work can find a meaningful job.

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Published on Mar. 21, 2012

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  1. Adrian Sav April 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Unemployment among veterans is declining, this phrase should be rent growth of 10% veterans, a soldier who fought in various theaters of operations to reach unemployed, it’s kind of sad.

  2. Matt Harrison March 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

    This is why I HATE statistical data. It can be construed in a million different ways. As it was pointed out in a previous comment, the first chart is a prediction…not factual data. The second chart is intended to lead you to believe that the overall trend is down, but the actual numbers show a significant spike in veteran unemployment. What these ill-conceived charts do not show are the numbers by age bracket. The truth of the matter is that for vets 26 and under, their unemployment rate (as of Dec 2011) has risen from 12% in 2009 to 33.5%. Those service members over the age of 26 are fairing slightly better, but still not as good as their civilian counterparts. The other thing that this article fails to illustrate is how veteran unemployment compares to civilian unemployment. If we go back to the 26 and under bracket we see that over the same period unemployment has gone from around the same 12% in 2009 to 9.3% in Dec of 2011. Now if you want to see this data through rose colored glasses then you are fooling yourself, and are thereby part of the problem…not the solution to the problem.

    • Brandon Friedman March 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      Matt, we still have a long way to go with respect to lowering Veteran unemployment, but the comment above to which you refer is inaccurate. The first chart is not a prediction at all. It uses the latest data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  3. MIKE BERLINER March 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Is the APPARENT downward trend due to the fact that many Veterans HAVE GIVEN UP looking for employment?
    Would someone please explain the large number of Veterans living under bridges, sleeping in alleys and begging at roadside intersections.
    Oh and lets not forget the high rate of suicides

  4. Don King March 22, 2012 at 10:23 am

    As a mathematician and USAF veteran, the first chart is a “wish” chart because it does not include real data for 2012, but only hopeful predictions. The second chart clearly shows data that fits a virtually flat linear curve at 12% overall, and a severely increasing linear curve using the August through December data. So, instead of having a significant trend downward, in fact we have a significant trend sharply upward. Where is there good news in this?

    • Brandon Friedman March 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Don, I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say it’s a “wish chart.” But I do know that your assertion is inaccurate. The chart above does not include any predictions at all. It includes actual unemployment data from January and February 2012, as provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I’m not a professional statistician, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to derive anything as being “sharply upward” from any of this data.

  5. Roger Lempke March 21, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    As a General in charge of our state National Guard during Iraq War I recall very distinctly viewing charts with trends that looked just like this in 2005 and 2006 and trying to convince myself we were winning there. By late 2006 things had become so bad the majority party lost big in the mid-term election and the Secretary of Defense was fired. I don’t recommend breaking out any champagne over these charts. I hope the trend stays as it shows, but there are many issues looming that may drive the trend upward again. Budget reductions causing cuts in troop strength and support programs are just beginning to hit.

  6. Robert Deyoung March 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    I see the the trends going up and down, I don’t see any milestone here… Time will tell…

  7. Gregory Tyson March 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    I,m glad the truth has finally come out, I have leasoned to the President and I trust his word when he stated that the UE rate had droped for Veterans of the post Gulf War era.

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