Veterans returning from tours of duty overseas face a bleak job market at home, according to a published report.
Employment prospects are especially dismal for young veterans and for those searching in Illinois, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in today’s editions.
“I’ve filled out dozens of applications,” said Blue Island resident Angelina Summerfield, 28, who cannot find a job despite a resume that includes two tours in Iraq as a Marine sergeant.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for vets between ages 20 and 24 was 16 percent in 2005, compared with 9 percent for non-veterans in the same age group, the Sun-Times reported.
The overall unemployment rate last year was 5.1 percent.
Experts cite a variety of reasons for veterans’ high unemployment.
Managers today are less likely to have personal connections to the military and don’t seek soldiers out as job applicants, said Robert Bruno, a professor at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan also have not boosted the U.S. economy.
Michael McCoy, 24, said he had to fight a perceived stigma from potential employers who were worried about psychological problems like post-traumatic stress disorder.
“You’ve been to war, and they think you’re a dangerous guy,” said McCoy, who was diagnosed with PTSD after returning to Chicago Heights from Iraq in April 2004.
It took McCoy five months to find a part-time job as a package handler at United Parcel Service, at a pay rate of $8.50 an hour and without benefits.
Illinois is last in the country when it comes to getting jobs for veterans, according to the U.S. Labor Department, a ranking that state employment officials dispute.
Federal labor officials say 34 percent of unemployed veterans who asked for help from the Illinois Department of Employment Security found jobs last year, but state officials say new data boosts Illinois’ ranking.
Even using the state’s statistics, Illinois performed better than just seven other states, the Sun-Times reported.
“It makes me angry, and it’s discouraging to thousands of veterans in Illinois who have served their country,” said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
The low ranking is deceiving because Illinois’ younger veterans are more likely than their counterparts in other states to enroll in college, state officials said.
Illinois is one of the few states to offer veterans four years of college benefits, on top of the money they get through the federal GI Bill.
In the last five years, the number of Illinois veterans using GI Bill benefits has risen more than 53 percent, compared to 20 percent nationally, the Sun-Times reported.
“A lot of our younger veterans went into the military so they could get benefits to go to school,” said Lane Knox, who heads Illinois’ veterans employment representatives. “They don’t want to work. But if someone’s taking statistics, all they see is this person is not working.”
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