Starbucks Has Big Plans to Help Unemployed Veterans

A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 7 2013 2:54 PM

Why Is It So Hard to Employ Veterans?

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Starbucks is promising to help the endemic problem of veterans' unemployment.

Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Matthew Yglesias is on vacation.

Just ahead of Veterans Day on Monday, the Seattle Times reported that Starbucks is planning on hiring “at least 10,000 military veterans and active-duty spouses over the next five years.” It’s part of a plan to expand the number of Starbucks employees by 200,000 to a total of 500,000, meaning this 10,000 goal would represent 5 percent of the proposed expansion. AT&T announced a similar plan as well.

This is a good thing. It is also, in the greater scheme, a very small thing. In 2010, there were nearly 12 million veterans working or looking for work. According to the Department of Labor, that’s “7.7 percent of the U.S. labor force.” That number will almost surely increase when America’s military presence draws down in Afghanistan, and it doesn’t include troops already home from Iraq.

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Economic challenges for veterans are nothing new. In July, unemployment for veterans dropped back in line with the rest of the United States, at about 7 percent. But these stories always leave me with the same question: Why is it so hard to employ veterans?

One of the reasons—I suspect the biggest—can be found in an underreported story form just a few days ago. The International Business Times reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs had “stopped releasing statistics on non-fatal war casualties to the public.” It’s likely that the number of people injured from fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq just passed the 1 million mark; of course, we can’t know that, because the data is being withheld.

It’s hard for veterans to find jobs; it’s even harder if they’re disabled. The Department of Labor has the September unemployment rate of people with disabilities at 13.1 percent (and people without at 6.8 percent).

If the bills America is paying are any indication, the number of disabled veterans is skyrocketing. America paid disabled veterans $14.8 billion in 2000. In 2011, that number rose to $39.4 billion. The percentages are also climbing. USA Today reported that for the same period, the percentage of veterans with disabilities climbed a staggering 45 percent.

Fortunately, there are some significant developments that may help in the long term: The Department of Labor announced new rules that would require government contractors to employ both more people with disabilities and more veterans. I tend to be skeptical when it comes to regulation, but I’m happy to see this.

To be fair to those who might disagree, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that included analysis of the employment situations of veterans with a service-connected disability, and found the unemployment rate was only 6.5 percent in 2012. I have little faith in that number, however, largely because some veterans didn’t report whether they had a service-connected disability, many individuals with disabilities don’t report or pursue benefits based on disability, and, oh yeah, there are 253,000 veterans appealing their disability compensation rulings.

Sean Vitka holds a J.D. from Boston College Law School. He was a legal fellow at the Open Technology Institute and a Google Policy Fellow at Georgetown Law.