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Tanya Basu/MEDILL

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Jennet Posey is part of a growing population of female veterans who can't find a job that matches her skills.


Young female veterans find jobs elusive

by Tanya Basu
March 19, 2013



Tanya Basu/MEDILL

Jennet Posey discusses the frustration of the job search for a female veteran.


Employment out of unemployment

 

Female veterans are getting creative while unemployment.

 

Jennet Posey filmed a half-hour documentary on the plight of young female veterans called “Through Her Eyes” that has garnered attention to the issue. It is available at https://vimeo.com/53375992 (viewer discretion is advised).

 

April George, a former U.S. Air Force servicewoman, took advantage of a federal program encouraging in-sourcing, contracting  a business that provides work for 24 people, including 6 veterans and 3 military spouses.

 

“The discipline and skills that I acquired in the military made for a natural fit with starting and running my own business,” George said. “And the flexibility of a virtual services business partnering with Arise meant I could stay in Fayetteville, choose the hours I want to work, and more importantly hire veterans and military spouses.”


As a 30-year-old veteran with a master’s degree, prestigious internships under her belt, and stellar grades, Jennet Posey would seem to have employers fighting for +the chance to hire her.

But Posey, who returned from a stint in Iraq in 2004, is underemployed and working as a housekeeper at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.

“It’s not good enough,” said Posey of her experience. “I’m so mad. I’m still just out here. I’m so frustrated.”

It took Posey several months to even land the housekeeping job, which she keeps so she can be independent.

Returning veterans have historically been plagued by chronic unemployment and underemployment. But for women returning from the latest conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers are astonishingly high--a disconcerting fact considering female veterans are fast rising in numbers.

Seventeen percent of female veterans are unemployed, compared to 11 percent for their non-veteran counterparts, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. Female veterans also have an increasing rate of poverty, 10 percent in the most recent report, – an unprecedented statistic.

Celia Renteria Szelwach, founder of the Women Veterans Network in North Carolina, thinks a combination of socioeconomic factors are to blame.

“There’s a number of reasons why women veterans are unemployed or underemployed,” she said, pointing to transitioning from military to civilian work, health and education as primary factors.

A troubling trend

For young female veterans like Posey, the job search can be excruciating, and finding any job, let alone one that matches professional qualifications, is daunting.

“I don’t know what I have to do,” said Posey, who has a journalism degree from Columbia College in Chicago and a master’s from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. “I mean, it pays more than my unemployment but it’s like, I don’t care about that. It’s just so frustrating. I’m at a loss.”

In fact, in 2009, female veterans classified as “young women veterans,” or those between the ages of 17 and 24, were 50 percent more likely to be unemployed than their civilian counterparts, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics.

Szelwach, a former captain and paratrooper who served in the U.S. Army from 1990-1995, recently published an article exploring female veteran unemployment trends in rural areas.

Rural areas have been particularly hit hard, said Szelwach. Manufacturing plants that would have otherwise accepted workers without a college degree have shut down as the country has transitioned to being more service-oriented.

Female veterans seeking jobs are also hampered by a lack of a support system, said Szelwach.

“With this generation, there is no emphasis on developing networks outside the military,” said Szelwach. “Access to network and people working in the industry is absolutely essential” for making the first step towards connecting with an employer for an interview.

There are also a multitude of health issues affecting this recent crop of veterans. “Their first need is to get themselves healthy. When they are healthy, they can get gainful employment,” said Szelwach.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle female veterans face in getting employed is education. Though grants are available to provide funding for education, female veterans often must balance lost time with childcare in their role as primary caregiver.

“If you’re a young female veteran who is a junior enlisted soldier, you probably haven’t had time to go to school to get your degree, “observed Szelwach.

“In the current marketplace, many front end jobs require a bachelor’s degree, putting the female veteran at a disadvantage.”

A generational disconnect?

Data suggests that older female veterans, particularly those who served in the first Gulf War of the 1990s, don’t feel the direct effects of unemployment as much.

Persian Gulf War veteran Michelle Malone believes the economic issues facing veterans is due to the recession –not necessarily discrimination.

“I think it has a lot to do with the economy and what’s going on in the world,” said Malone. “If we weren’t going through the economic struggles we were going through, it would have been easier for a veteran to find a job.”

Malone doesn’t think that a stigma exists. In fact, she thinks being a veteran provides a leg up in the selection process.

“If you have a veteran looking for a job without a mental or social issue and if they had a bachelor’s degree like a civilian, they have a better chance [at getting a job],” she said.

She may have a point.

According to the VA, 76 percent of female veterans are employed, compared to 71 percent of non-veteran women. Employment rates would be arguably higher when considering that females in general have higher rates of taking off from work to raise children, being disabled, and/or pursuing higher education.

Not so for Evan Aviles, 29, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “I think the biggest [obstacle] was understanding, not discriminatory,” she said. “I think they didn’t know how to approach the topic or how to understand the work. It was difficult for them to understand what I did [in the military].”

Aviles, who worked on Army training manuals initially sought work in an administrative capacity but found some initial hurdles.

“No matter how much schooling we did and how much education we got, it was really difficult for us to get out. The stigma that there is of being veterans, especially in the last generation of veterans – it’s prevented people from seeing beyond that.”

Help

Social programs are available to help female veterans transitioning from military status to civilian life.

“Grants determine the amount of support [veterans] receive,” said Malone. “We have a homeless veterans reintegration program and some assist with employment and resume building. If they’re lacking essential computer and interviewing skills, we provide that for all veterans.”

But Szelwach believes  employers should do more.

“Employers have a responsibility to look at some of these jobs and see whether this person really needs to have a bachelor’s degree  to perform effectively in this position,” said Szelwach. “Can someone who has been performing very effectively in the military and under a lot of stress for their country – can they perform this role?”

Posey will keep working as a housekeeper while she continues her job search.

“I’m not saying ‘Give me the job,’” she said. “If you meet the minimum qualifications, you should at least be granted an interview to have a shot at it.”