Edmonds Military Wire: Joining the National Guard is a career killer

Mike SchindlerBy Michael Schindler

Many of our veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 are unemployed due to their participation in the National Guard and Reserves. What was marketed as money for college, an opportunity to serve and great job experience is turning out to be a career killer.

The unemployment rate for the 18-to-24-year-old veterans in February rose to 36.2 percent (60,000) from January’s 31.3 percent (51,000), an increase of 4.9 percent. The last Current Employment Index (CEI) from the National Guard Bureau (NGB) indicated that nearly 21 percent of the Army National Guard participants nationally are unemployed. This according to Ted Daywalt, CEO and President of VetJobs.com.

When you look at the national unemployment rate, which dropped to a four-year low of 7.6 percent in March from 7.7 in February and compare that to those who serve or have served in our Guard and Reserve, there is a troubling trend that puts our states and country at risk.

Let me digress for a moment. The government admits that the number of Americans in the labor force — those who have a job or are looking for one — fell by nearly half a million people from February to March, so these “under 8 percent” unemployment numbers are not a true representation of those truly unemployed. The “real” number would create panic – especially when you realize that people without a job who stop looking for one are no longer counted as unemployed – and when you then realize that, according to an AP article, “the percentage of working-age adults in the labor force — what’s called the participation rate — fell to 63.3 percent last month.”  We’ve got as many discouraged couch surfers as we did in 1979.

Back to my point. The trending increase in veteran unemployment could cause the next generation to pause before they opt to serve – that is if they are even paying attention and can break away from Instagram, Facebook and texting. The day could come that when our state, or any state, has a flood or crisis, the government will need to turn to private contractors – and now that the Department of Defense views the Guard and Reserves as an active augmentation force, our ability to increase force strength with trained individuals could be compromised.

It is no mystery why there is unemployment for those who serve in the Guard and Reserves: “Employers cannot run a business with their employees constantly being called up and taken away from the business” (Daywalt).

So what’s the answer? Contract labor and job sharing. If companies want to have some of the best young talent in the marketplace, many of who are in the Guard and Reserves, they will need to reconsider how they “do business.” Our young generation will need to excel at contracting with several employers. OR, we can continue to hire out-of-country talent, the Army can continue to spend hundreds of millions on unemployment insurance – which is ultimately paid by us – and we can continue to weaken our great nation.

Bottom line: Indifference and ignorance is not an option. We all need to think outside of “this is how we’ve always done it” and work to actually solve the problem.

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include  “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.”  He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

  1. Michael
    If I was the Czar I would do what they do in Israel with a twist. I would make mandatory military or civil service for everyone who turns 18 unless they get a collage degree, Then it’s waved, I would change the rules so that we could guard our own borders.
    Think of it. People comining out of the military are mostly clean, respectful,
    mature young men and woman. Get those smart young people enrolled in Collage or help them find a decent job and we have solved several problems.
    That may be a pipe dream but if we were ever attacked again it could become reality.

  2. Dave, as you know, for those who do serve, they have the option to use the GI Bill to cover the cost of college after service – the college system is being re-evaluated to understand how to “relate” to those who have served…as it stands right now, Veterans who enter college after service have a 58% first year drop out rate and fewer than 5% actually graduate…so we still have a few things to learn on this front.

    I agree with you that some form of service to our country should be mandatory – whether it be Peace Corps or Military – then we will see our nation grow stronger, as the attitude will be “service above self” as opposed to “me first.”

  3. What you’re saying is very true. I am a 22 year old member of the texas national guard and haven’t been able to finnd a decent job to make ends meet. I am trying to join the rotc program but I can’t just around and wait for that. I need income now, its really starting me to have regrets and quite frankly is depressing.


  4. Michael,

    As a senior DoD volunteer with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, I have seen this situation up close and from both the employer and employee perspective. The problem is very complex and solving it requires the cooperation of all stakeholders. National Guard/Reserve members must keep their employers apprised of their military status (you’d be shocked at how many service members don’t provide a schedule of drill weekends to their employers) and employers must understand their participation is vital to maintaining our national defense, since about half of our military strength is in the National Guard/Reserve.

    Finally, the military leadership of the Reserve Component must continue to work towards a reasonable BOG: dwell ratio (deployment/home station time) so employers can better determine how long military employees will remain in the workplace between deployments. Currently, the suggested BOG: Dwell ratio for reservists is 1:5, but it is still under review.

  5. Uncertainty and dwell time are factors that affect by the employer and employee, as you rightly mention Wayne. We saw dwell time creep on the active duty side for sure and with a reduction in force strength dwell time will be impacted.

    The issue is complex – but the issue needs to be more front and center so Mr. Collins can be greeted with honor, support, and a job so he knows how much he is appreciated and remains an asset to his community and not a liability.

  6. Thank you for writing about this subject. As a former Guard member I have always found my service to be an asset when interviewing, but I understand there can be a difference for those still in with the possibility of deployment. I wonder how that rate for guard members you stated compares to non-veterans in the same age group? I’ve heard pretty high figures for youth unemployment in general.
    It would be interesting to know what percent of veterans normally find employment in public sector jobs where they have preference in hiring. While the private sector has been creating a slow steady stream of jobs for 3 1/2 years, the state, local and federal governments have been reducing thier workforces. That may be disproportionately impacting veterans. This far into every other recovery since 1980 government hiring was much more robust.
    As for labor force participation, we appear to be returning to levels that were normal prior to boomers entering the workforce in 1970. The BLS chart as far back as 1948 is available online – google “chart labor force participation rate.” Certainly it should be higher because of more women working, but the decline in participation with the retirement of boomers has been predicted for 40 years (since it rose due to boomers). That makes it a little less shocking. The rate is calculating workers as a % of population over 16, but there is no cut off on the high end of ages, and when you have a demographic bubble hit the retirement age, you expect to see exactly what we see now, lower overall participation. It hasn’t helped the situation that the other demographic bubble, the Echo Boom, is all those 20 somethings trying to get into the job market before baby boomers have all left it and at a time when automation is replacing a lot of entry level low skill work.
    The weakness in labor markets disadvantages everyone looking for work and hoping for better pay, but especially those with special needs for accomodation (like guard service). If congress would pass a modest gas tax increase (it hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation since 1993) then they could fund a proper infrastructure program with actual revenues and not debt. We could put all of our verterans back to work on projects needed to restore, replace and improve the roads, rails, runways and pipelines passed down to us by the WW2, Korea and Vietnam vets who built them originally.

  7. Eric – I would agree with you – your service in the Guard is a true asset – not only to you, but to employers. The challenge is that many employers don’t fully understand the value today – which is unfortunate but can be corrected through training.

    If we are to compare age groups of non-veterans, the unemployment rate is in the low 20%. If we are to compare total Veterans as compared to non-veterans, Veterans fair better – hovering around 7.5% as opposed to 7.7%.

    We need to train our younger generations for the demands of the market place – and that is beginning to happen. Unfortunately, some will be caught up in the gap.

    Infrastructure improvement, nationally, and even locally, is critical – and there are some who could easily fill the need – how we fund is what will likely be the road block. As to an increase in gas tax – well – I’m not sure that the public would like to see a gas tax increase, though it does have some merit.

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