Michael Liguori is like a lot of other college graduates looking for a job. After graduating from the private nonprofit Menlo College last year, he's been searching for a job that's a good fit for his major in business management. But Liguori is also a 28-year-old California veteran who served tours in Iraq.
Liguori seems like an optimistic, friendly guy. He's started a nonprofit, Operation Work Warriors, to help veterans get the job training they need to go back to work, and recently sold a book based on his experiences, The Sandbox: Stories of Human Spirit and War, during deployment to a small, California-based press. He seems like the kind of go-getter companies would love to hire, but he's not getting many callbacks. He's already sent out over 150 applications and right now he's seeing how many applications he can send out in 30 days.
"I just want a chance, just one chance," he told Raw Story. But said he he isn't discouraged. "I'm still moving forward, I've got to keep a good attitude."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated estimated that young veterans like Ligiouri faced an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent in 2011. For their non-veteran peers, the unemployment rate is 17.6 percent.
Tom Tarantino, a former Army Captain who is now a policy associate at with the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said he thinks one factor is that the military is a staffed by volunteers and not by a draft. This means that far fewer vets are in the upper echelons of companies. For those without firsthand experience, it can be tough to determine how the skills one gains in the military translate to skills in the private sector.
"The civilian population doesn’t know us," Tarantino told Raw Story. "There’s nothing official to translate what [military] skills are."
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), an independent think tank that focuses on pragmatic national security and defense policies, issued a report in June that tried to close this gap by breaking down for businesses the benefits of hiring veterans.
"Based on our research, companies across the country actively support veterans and believe in the principle that businesses should prioritize the hiring of veterans. Yet in practice, most individual American businesses will hire veterans only when they perceive that it is good for business to do so," the report said.
The report goes on to argue that hiring veterans is "good business," and that veterans come with a variety of skills that are assets in the private sector, including both leadership and teamwork skills, discipline, effectiveness at "getting it done," resiliency and and even a offer a crass public relations appeal. "Some companies have found marketing benefits to hiring veterans," the report reads.
In CNAS' survey of companies, they found all the companies they talked to "prioritized hiring the best-qualified candidate," but "in
the instance of multiple qualified candidates, 'The tie goes to the vet.'" About a third of companies said they recruited veterans on military bases, and about a fourth attended military job fairs. They also noted that companies that tracked military service tended to have better veteran representation among their ranks.
These efforts to place veterans in the workforce are bolstered in part by the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act, signed into law in November 2011. The new law offers tax credits to employers who hire veterans, job training for those needing additional skills and a fast-track application for veterans hoping to become civil servants in the federal government to shorten the often months-long application and hiring process.
Trying to get veteran unemployment numbers down has been a priority for the Obama administration. Not only did President Barack Obama strongly push the VOW to Hire Veterans Act, but a program to push hiring veterans placed 125,000 vets more than a year ahead of schedule.
First Lady Michelle Obama has been a strong proponent of veterans, even mentioning them in her speech before the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. "We are so grateful for your family’s service and sacrifice," she said, "and we will always have your back."
But pledges to hire veterans can backfire or simply not be realized, as Liguori found during his job search.
"If a company wants to hire veterans, they need to go out and find veterans," he said. "You have these huge companies, like Disney and Verizon who have made pledges like that, but they only have a certain number of allotted slots." Unfortunately, Ligiouri seems to be finding that companies are viewing hiring veterans pledges as a quota that needs to be filled.
"They just kind of say it because it's the trendy thing to do," he said.
For all the good intentions, it seems that veterans will need more than just lip service to get back to work in today's economy.
Note: This story is part of a series on unemployment tied to Labor Day. Read previous stories on long-term unemployment, unemployment among recent college graduates, unemployment among older workers and nationwide teacher layoffs.
[Veteran via Shutterstock]