CHAPEL HILL – The nationwide unemployment rate is slowly dropping but still high, a trend that also applies to specific demographic groups, including America’s veterans.
Now, with budget season already upon us, Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Seth Harris says the Obama administration is calling for more than $350 million in additional federal funding for veterans’ services—including several programs designed to get former service members into jobs.
“(The President is) investing an additional $100 million in the U.S. Department of Labor so that we can help these transitioning service members and veterans and their spouses, and National Guard and Reserve, get into good, reliable, middle-class jobs,” Harris said Wednesday on the WCHL Evening News with Aaron Keck.
The President’s proposal includes an extra $38 million for veterans’ employment representatives across the country; a $5 million increase in the federal Transition Assistance Program for veterans exiting active duty; and perhaps most notably, an extra $50 million for the Workforce Innovation Fund.
“This community faces barriers that a lot of other folks don’t face,” says Harris. “A lot of people in the civilian world don’t know what a military occupational specialty prepares you to do in civilian life…so there are a lot of challenges that this community faces.
“We need new ideas…so we’re going to put that money out there, challenge the workforce investment system and community colleges and other enterprises to get in the game (and) help us figure out these problems–and then we’ll scale them up across the country if they’re successful.”
Of course nothing is certain in Washington, especially with an ongoing budget crunch—but as for the politics of it all, Harris says he’s confident the two parties can at least come together around veterans’ affairs.
“My experience in Washington has been that the partisan divide that’s so prominent right now is often traversed…when it comes to helping veterans and transitioning service members and military families,” he says.
At the end of 2012, the overall unemployment rate for veterans was 7.0 percent, down from 8.3 percent in 2011. For post-9/11 vets, the rate was much higher: 9.9 percent in 2012, down from 12.1 percent the previous year.