Veterans faring well in California’s longest job growth streak in decades

Labor Day – the day America celebrates its workers – offers an opportunity to see how our military veterans are doing in the California labor market.

The answer? Quite well, it seems. The number of unemployed veterans in California declined from 65,200 to 20,800 between October 2015 and October 2018.

The labor force, whether for veterans or nonveterans, consists of the number of people working plus the number of people unemployed but actively looking for work. The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed/looking for work by the number of people in the labor force.

The unemployment rate rises when the economy struggles and drops when it is healthy. California’s current streak of 113 months of job growth expansion – with 3.3 million new non-farm jobs – ties the state’s record from the 1960s as the longest on record since 1940. Veterans, as a group, are thriving.

According to the 12-month average of the current population survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in July 2019, there are 1.6 million veterans in California, which is down slightly from previous years. Of those, 47.5 percent worked (for pay) or actively pursued employment, with the unemployment rate among veterans at 3.4 percent.

By comparison, 64.8 percent of nonveterans 18 and over were in the California workforce in July 2019. Their unemployment rate was 4.1 percent. The lower percentage among veterans in the workforce reflects an age difference: 54.1 percent of California veterans were 65 or older. Only 17 percent of nonveterans were 65 or older. Working veterans also are employed in fulltime jobs at a higher rate (85.3 percent) than nonveterans (82 percent.)

Many have taken advantage of their GI Bill education benefits. A 2018 survey showed that one-quarter of California working veterans attended college at some level, with one-third of them owning  a bachelor’s degree or higher. Over 162,000 boasted a master’s degree; while 73,600 held a professional school or doctorate degree in 2018. The top three career groups among veterans were management, protective services, and office and administrative support.

That stated, the numbers of those using the GI Bill has dropped in recent years for a variety of reasons, including an already low unemployment rate among veterans. And in California, which annually ranks at or near the top of the GI Bill usage list, those numbers could drop further with the implementation of free community college tuition for the first two years. Veterans will likely delay using their GI benefits until after those two free years.

Regardless, employment opportunities are strong for veterans. Strong economies create competitive job markets, and the U.S. Department of Labor reports that most, if not all, of the veterans who leave the service each year “have acquired technical expertise and soft skills that today’s businesses covet.”

And on this Labor Day, that is something to celebrate.

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