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Young vets' jobless rate falls sharply
Posted 1/11/2007 11:01 PM ET
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

The unemployment rate among young veterans fell significantly last year, the first major decline since the war in Iraq began, U.S. Department of Labor statistics show.

Joblessness among veterans ages 20-24 dipped to 10.4% last year after reaching a record high of almost 16% in 2005. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 269,000 veterans were in this age group in the 2006 labor force; about 28,000 were unemployed, says Jim Walker, an economist with the bureau.

A University of Chicago study released Thursday suggests that the high unemployment during the war may have occurred because young veterans are taking their time — up to nine months in some cases — searching for the right job.

"The study does suggest that young veterans take some time," says Charles Ciccolella, assistant secretary for veterans' employment and training at the Department of Labor. "It may also suggest that they use their unemployment compensation while looking for the right job."

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago is tracking 173 unemployed veterans ages 20-24. Julia Lane, an economist and senior vice president of the center, said further study is underway to see whether the unemployment rate is falling largely among deactivated National Guard and Reserve troops trying to re-enter the workforce.

The peak periods for activating Guard and Reserve troops for fighting in Iraq were in May 2003, January 2004 and January 2005. Since then, the use of these citizen soldiers — who return to the labor force after deactivation — has declined. Because fewer of them are looking for jobs, that might account for the dramatic drop in unemployment, Lane said.

The reliance on the Guard and Reserves might grow, however, based on new plans by President Bush to increase troop levels in Iraq this year.

Ciccolella attributed the decline in unemployment to overall economic growth and federal programs aimed at getting more troops to attend job-training courses before leaving the military.

The current 10.4% rate is still more than twice the national unemployment rate of 4.6%. It's also higher than the jobless rate among non-veterans ages 20-24, which was 8.1% last year.

Walker cautioned that the Census data sampling for young veterans is too small for precise conclusions about jobless rates.