A hidden cause of high veteran unemployment: the federal hiring freeze

The latest BLS unemployment figures indicate that nearly 10% of post-9/11 veterans 25 and over are unemployed, compared to 7.6% of civilians in that age group. In researching an America story on this phenomenon, The Next Battle, one thing that struck me was the extent to which employment prospects for our veterans are intertwined with the future of the federal government workforce.

Affirmative action to promote federal hiring of our veterans represents a remarkable success story dating all the way back to the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944. Uncle Sam was ready to take a chance on hiring our servicemen and women even when private employers were skeptical or skittish. As a result, not just the Department of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs but also the Department of Transportation and the Post Office hire remarkable numbers of vets. While only 1 in every 13 American workers overall has a service record, veterans represent one out of every four civilian employees of the federal government.


It’s a source of employment that is drying up for this generation of veterans. The Vietnam veterans who returned home to a slumping economy and prejudices about PTSD could often still find a place on growing federal payrolls. Not so today, when a sour public mood prevails about government in general and public employees in particular.

The result? Our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen separating from the service have fewer opportunities for civilian employment than their predecessors. As we move forward as a nation and take decisions about the future of the federal workforce, justice and prudence alike demand that we keep watch for unintended consequences like these.

Clayton Sinyai


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
6 years 7 months ago
Why has the competition in the global economy that forced down wages forced executive compensation to soar like a rocket?
Mike Brooks
6 years 7 months ago
Federal workers are employees of private sector taxpayers; the government has no money except what it gets from the taxpayers.  As the corporations have been forced to pay lower wages (previously inflated by unions) because of competition in a global economy, so, in turn, are the private sector taxpayers, having less money, forced to evaluate the wages they pay their federal gov't employees. 

Why should government workers be insulated from the effects of an economic downturn?  Why should taxpayers continue to pay the same wages and benefits (inflated by unions) to their federal employees -which can only be maintained through tax increases or borrowing - when their incomes have been slashed by a bad economy? 

Private sector workers have been screwed; it only follows that government employees, who are at the end of the money train, are subject to be screwed, as well.  That is, of course, unless the private sector workers agree to continue to support inflated salaries/benefits of their government employees.  Judging from what happened in Wisconsin, I don't expect that will be the case.
Jim McCrea
6 years 7 months ago
"How do we separate the 'undeserving' CEOs from the 'deserving' CEOs that have managed and produced our prosperity."

Unfortunately, exec comp plans are rigged or so loosely structured so as to reward failure almost as much as success.

I spent many years working in exec comp and a combination of rigged salary survey results coupled with essentially incompetent exec comp committees of the BOD and outside consultants who know upon what their fat fees are dependant, resulted in obscene violations of fiduciary responsibility on the part of management, the BOD and those shareholders who, so long as the realized the returns they were expecting, didn't give a damn.
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 7 months ago
Is the reason there are fewer public jobs for returning veterans the "sour mood" of the public regarding such jobs, or is that merely the effect of bloated benefit and retirement costs that the union/government complex has created? For instance, while the average federal employee makes 1.6 times the income of the typical American, not unrreasonable given his generally higher level of education, the tax-free benefits portion of feeral employees' compensation is almost 4 times higher. Just imagine how many payroll dollars would be freed up for these veterans were the ratio of benefit costs the same as the ratio to salaries paid.
Perhaps public recognition of this costly imbalance and the harm it does to the general citizenry is the true cause of what "sours" the public's mood on government jobs. 
J Cosgrove
6 years 7 months ago
Interesting that the major places in government that have increased employee numbers in recent years have been those areas dealing with the military such as the various military departments and veteran affairs.

For example from 2007 to 2011

Veteran Affairs 254,000 - 316,000
Air force 155,000 - 178,000
Army 240,000 - 283,000
Navy 173,000 - 199,000
Defense 95,000 - 112,000
Homeland Security 164,000 - 198,000

There has been little increase in any of the other cabinet level departments.

The site


has tons of numbers on actual employees by area of the federal government.  From what I understand the actual numbers per thousand citizens is not increasing but salaries, especially benefits have increased dramatically.  Mainly because the Feds cover pretty much all one's health care costs which is over $20,000 per family a year now.
6 years 7 months ago
Ah, yes. Someone worries about the future we offer the guys and gals who go out and get shot at so our politicians can go duck hunting or play golf, and the usual union-bashing force comes out with their statistics, some of which are true but not new and some of which are new but not true. So OK, here is the explanation for all those statistics: Once upon a time Americans had jobs in the auto and steel indjustries. Yes, those were union members. And they paid a lot.

They paid a lot more than we paid people working in government jobs. And the country did prosper. A grateful country said, "We don't pay our local, state and federal employees enough, but, heck, we can give them benefits competitive with the private sector. And they did. Are you with me so far?

Then the job creators in the private sector let the steel jobs go abroad and guessed wrong about customer wishes in the auto industry and had to - with the aid of a compliant Democrartic president whose last name starts with O  - cut wages and benefits for auto workers while helping the company shed lots of those workers and turn the responsibility for their benefits over to their big, bad unions. And the job creators made the hallmark jobs of our economy the ones that involve hamburgers and selling Chinese-made products at Wal-mart.

Then Americans said, "Holy cow, we are compensating our government employees way better than oure job creators are compensating private sector serfs. We have to screw the government employees." And that is where we are.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 7 months ago
As I checked out of a supermarket, I was asked if I wanted to take a chance in a raffle to support the families of troops. A worthy cause, but I declined.  Since when are soldiers defending the country charity cases dependent on raffles?  Let there be a tax to cover it.  I'll pay my share, and let the rich trash that sent them to die for oil and oligarchy pay a lot more.
Mike Evans
6 years 7 months ago
But Mr. Romney will be creating 12 million new jobs with his trickle down economics! Meanwhile, when your tour is over, you had better have a civilian occupation all sewed up or be ready to re-enlist in the next military adventure. If ever there was a national emergency need for WPA, CCC or Ceta, now is the time.
Jim McCrea
6 years 7 months ago
We have become a company with paid mercenaries to do our fighting for us.  So long as they lay it on the line, you go boys (and girls)!

However, don't expect us to help you find work when you are either burned out, burned up or physically and emotionally damaged.

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!  Kwitcherbitchin'!  Get a haircut!  And for goodness sakes, get a job!

You want to stop this kind of travesty?  Reintroduce the draft for everyone and watch the chicken hawks suddenly lose their desire for war.  So long as someone else's kids are cannon fodder, so be it.  But if it becomes a problem for each and every family in this pampered, self-indulgent country, NIMBY!
J Cosgrove
6 years 7 months ago
''Why has the competition in the global economy that forced down wages forced executive compensation to soar like a rocket?''

It hasn't actually forced down wages if one looks at it worldwide.  It has actually raised them for the workers in other countries and they are still not even close to what they are in the US but they are much better than just a short time ago.  There is a gradual increase in the wages in third world countries as manufacturers all over the world find that things can competently be made employing these workers.  Consequently these workers are now making what might be very low wages in the United States but are much better off than they were 20-30 years ago when they lived on as little as 1-3 dollars a day.

The unfortunate thing is for those who were used to the much higher wages here are now subject to competition from all over the world.  When a manufacturer is faced with the decision to employ someone at $20 per hour and then pay for their health care which cost an additional $8 an hour more, and see that someone will do the exact same work for $1 an hour in Asia or Africa, what should they do.  Pay the $28 per hour and not employ the workers in these poor countries or employ these workers in the poor countries and give them an opportunity for some semblance of a limited life versus the extreme poverty they would otherwise live in.

Somehow the protection of workers in the United States does not seem to be such a Christian objective when people in extreme poverty are kept that way in order to employ some US workers.  It is a natural thing we do as people from the beginning of time have protected their families, relatives, close friends and countrymen.  I recently watched two videos that focused on the poverty in Africa and Asia and the conditions of life these people live in.  It seems that Catholics should celebrate ways to employ these people that would lift them out of this poverty.  There are no easy solutions.

The answer to the problems of veterans is not government jobs though preference for them for legitimate government jobs that they are qualified seems to be justified.  The real solution is a vibrant private sector and the value added is often not in manufacturing but in adding value in many other ways we didn't dream of 40-50 years ago.  We are moving from a manufacturing to a service oriented society just as we moved from an agriculture to an manufacturing society a hundred years ago.

For example, the undiscounted price of an IPhone is about $600.  Of that about $200 in parts are made in various countries but mostly in East Asia.  They are then assembled in China.  The cost of the assembling is about $10 per phone.  So of the $600 for the phone, $390 is in things like design, distribution, advertising, after sale service etc.  Nearly all that $390 happens in the US or other Western countries and contribute to their incomes.  And the poor in China and other Asian countries are a little bit better off because of American innovation.

The CEO's of large global companies make decisions that affect $billions of dollars of revenue for their companies because the market literally for a lot of them is most of the world.  So when one or a few who makes decisions that affects $billions of dollars these people will be in demand and get high salaries.  When someone affects the decisions of just hundreds or maybe thousands of people, that person is important but the economic impact is much less and ability to pay them much less.  We live in a rapidly changing world where many of remember when decisions by someone affected relatively few people.  Those days are gone and I am not sure we would want them back.  But a lot of people remember them and look fondly on them as maybe a better time.  There was a lot more poor people in the US and the world during those times.

Despite the high salaries by many CEO's and many of them are probably not justified by results and many executives manage to rig their compensation unfairly, a concerted efforted to do away with them may be self defeating.  We will have the satisfaction of putting these people in their place and many probably deserve it, but we will also stifle innovation and productivity which our current level of living depends.  How do we separate the ''undeserving'' CEOs from the ''deserving'' CEOs that have managed and produced our prosperity.  A relatively small percentage of the people are responsible for our way of life which in about 200 years in the US has become about 25 times more productive per person.  What is that worth and what would we pay people to make it 5-10 times more productive than now.  The answer should be a lot.


The latest from america

Join Kirsten Powers, CNN analyst and USA Today columnist, and Rev. James Martin, S.J., Editor at Large of America Media and New York Times best-selling author, for a live show celebrating the 100th episode of Jesuitical.
America Media EventsApril 24, 2019

Some three months before Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the lunar module and left his footprints upon the surface of the moon in July, 1969, and uttered those immortal words about it being but “one small step for man” and yet “a giant leap for mankind,” a young, brown-haired, freckle-

Joseph McAuleyApril 18, 2019
You give us hope when we’re reporting on challenging issues in the church.
James Cappabianca April 18, 2019
For decades, Lopez has sought to re-establish our ethical relationships with the land and the other creatures who dwell on it. But Lopez, like many authors, struggles against labels.
Vincent J. MillerApril 18, 2019