Young veterans face steep unemployment

Young combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have another challenge waiting for them when they return home: steep unemployment.

More than 1 in 5 can’t find work, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department.

The unemployment rate last year for veterans ages 18 to 24 reached 21.1%, compared to 16.6% for that age group as a whole.

In addition to the recession, veterans groups attribute the high jobless rate to a lack of education, job experience and job training in the years before entering the service. Also, many return home with health and mental health problems that make it difficult to find work.

“When a person is deployed, it takes them out of their natural environment and they’re not out there able to compete with the general public for jobs,” said Joseph Sharpe, director of the economic division of the American Legion. “And when they return, they’re not on an even playing field.”

Reserve officers, who can face multiple deployments in just a few years, can often be especially vulnerable to chronic joblessness.

Sharpe said many companies, particularly smaller ones, are hesitant to hire Reserve and National Guard veterans for fear of losing those employees after costly training.

“Not only are they going to lose you once, they’re probably going to lose you twice, and maybe a third time,” he said.

Veterans groups have suggested bolstering the incentives, such as tax credits, for companies that hire veterans.

The unemployment numbers for young veterans in 2008 were dramatically lower -- a little more than 14%.