Over the past several years, over 2 million veterans from the post-9/11 generation have returned to civilian life and our communities. Many faced the immense stress of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our nation owes them enormous gratitude, which we must demonstrate in far more than words or symbols. Our veterans deserve the opportunity for personal and professional success long after their military service.
For most, that means having the opportunity to work and move up in the world, a journey that is usually undertaken not as an individual, but as a family. So our national commitment must be to make sure not only that every veteran can find a job, but also that military spouses have a fair shot at building successful careers. Doing so will not only repay a debt we owe, but also deliver enormous benefits to our entire economy.
The good news is that progress has been made to address veteran unemployment. From September 2013 to September 2014 the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was cut from 10.1 percent to 6.2 percent due to both an improving jobs market, as well as focused hiring efforts.
As just a few examples, JPMorgan Chase and over 170 other companies work together as part of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, which is on pace to hire 200,000 veterans by the end of the year, while Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 veterans and spouses by 2018 and is well on the way toward that goal.
In addition to employing veterans, it’s equally important to be aware of and bring attention to their plight as companies such as HBO have done through an effective mix of programming that spotlights their tremendous sacrifices and many contributions.
More must still be done. Nearly 160,000 post-9/11 veterans remain unemployed and their unemployment rate is still above the civilian rate. That is both shameful and illogical. Given the unique skills and attributes veterans offer, their unemployment rate should, if anything, be below the national average.
But even if we reach the goal of full employment for veterans, it wouldn’t be sufficient. Like most American families, most military spouses choose to seek work outside the home for reasons both financial and personal. Yet too often they face daunting obstacles.
Military families must frequently relocate. That forces spouses to face constant searches for new jobs, along with forfeiture of seniority and advancement opportunities, and the loss of state-based professional certifications and licenses.
In essence, every time the military sends a servicemember a transfer notice, his or her spouse must restart their career path from square one. That burden, which is inherent in military service, largely explains why a recent survey found that 90% of military spouses report that they are underemployed and earn less than their civilian peers.
To address this problem, we need to start by making a national commitment to military spouses. The Department of Defense has created a platform for doing so in the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), which helps connect spouses to job opportunities. Already, tens of thousands of spouses have found opportunities through that system, but more companies need to get involved.
We must also do more to help military spouses address the challenge of frequent relocations. One way is by encouraging employers to share information about job applicants from the military community. Recently, some members of the 100,000 Jobs Mission created the Military Talent Exchange, a portal that allows businesses to pass around resumes so that military spouses on the move can find jobs in new markets.
Job portability is another area that requires more exploration. No company can guarantee that all jobs will follow a military spouse wherever they go. But efforts must be made to accommodate such moves as best we can and look for ways to make jobs as portable as possible.
Training and education are another part of the solution. Again, flexibility is the key. One innovative idea comes from the Institute for Military and Veterans Affairs at Syracuse University, which provides free on-line job training programs. By allowing participants to access the program anytime, anywhere it is uniquely suited to the needs of military families.
In order to make the investments necessary to scale these and other programs, employers must recognize that this is not about charity. Hiring veterans and military spouses is an investment that offers a tremendous return. The U.S. military does a better job than just about any organization on the planet at creating a culture of teamwork, adaptability and dedication to mission. That culture forever changes veterans and the spouses who share the experience of service.
These men and women can achieve great things in civilian life. When we give them the opportunity they so richly deserve, then they can help us all build a country and an economy that is more resilient, more team-oriented and more generous of spirit.
In short, our veterans and their spouses will do for our economy what they have already done for our national security – make it stronger.
On November 11, Starbucks, Chase and HBO will be the presenting sponsors of The Concert the Concert for Valor on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.