The unemployment rate for veterans who served in the military since September 2001 – a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans – was 10.2 percent in 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on March 12. The jobless rate for veterans of all eras combined was 8.1 percent. About 21 percent of Gulf War-era II veterans reported having a service-connected disability in August 2009, compared with about 13 percent of all veterans.

This information was obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that provides official statistics on employment and unemployment in the United States. Data about veterans are collected monthly in the CPS; those monthly data are the source of the 2009 annual averages presented in this release. In August 2009, a supplement to the CPS collected additional information about veterans on topics such as service-connected disability. Information from the supplement also is presented in this release. The supplement was co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and by the U.S. Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service.

Some highlights in this release are:

  • Young male veterans (those ages 18 to 24) who served during Gulf War era II had an unemployment rate of 21.6 percent in 2009, not statistically different from the jobless rate of young male nonveterans (19.1 percent).
  • Male veterans age 18 to 24 were more likely to participate in the labor force in 2009 than were their nonveteran counterparts – 79.1 percent vs. 69.1 percent.
  • The unemployment rate for disabled veterans from all service periods was 8.2 percent in August 2009, essentially the same as the rate for non-disabled veterans (8.3 percent).
  • Nearly 1 in 3 of employed veterans with a service-connected disability worked in the public sector; 1 in 5 disabled veterans was employed by the federal government.
  • Gulf War-era II veterans who were current or past members of the Reserve or National Guard had an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, compared with a rate of 13.8 percent for those who had not been members.

The Veteran Population
In 2009, 22.2 million men and women in the civilian non-institutional population ages 18 and over were veterans. In the CPS, veterans are defined as men and women who have previously served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and who were civilians at the time they were surveyed.

Veterans are more likely to be men and older than nonveterans. In part, this reflects the characteristics of veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era. Veterans who served during these wartime periods account for about one-half (11.4 million) of the total veteran population. A total of 4.9 million veterans served during Gulf War era I (August 1990 to August 2001) or Gulf War era II (September 2001 forward). Another 5.9 million served outside the designated wartime periods. Because age and other demographic differences affect labor force status, the groups of veterans listed above are examined separately in the next sections.

Gulf War-era II Veterans
In 2009, about 1.9 million of the nation's veterans had served during Gulf War era II. About 18 percent of these veterans were women, compared with 3 percent of veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era. Nearly two-thirds of all Gulf War-era II veterans were under the age of 35.

In 2009, a large majority (83.5 percent) of Gulf War-era II veterans participated in the labor force, and their unemployment rate was 10.2 percent. For those ages 18 to 24, the unemployment rate was 21.1 percent, twice that of Gulf War-era II veterans ages 25 to 34 (10.6 percent). In general, Gulf War-era II veterans had unemployment rates that were not statistically different from those of non-veterans of the same age group and gender.

Gulf War-era II veterans were much more likely to work in the public sector than were nonveterans – about 27 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Nearly 15 percent of employed veterans of the era worked for the federal government, compared with about 2 percent of non-veterans.

Veterans of Gulf War era II and nonveterans had similar occupational profiles. About one-third of the men in both groups worked in management and professional occupations, a higher proportion than in any other major occupational group. Among women, 45 percent of Gulf War-era II veterans and 41 percent of nonveterans were employed in these occupations.

Gulf War-era I Veterans
For the 2.9 million veterans who served during Gulf War era I (August 1990 to August 2001), the proportion that were men (85 percent in 2009) was similar to that of Gulf War-era II veterans. About 78 percent of the era's veterans were age 35 and over, compared with 35 percent of Gulf War-era II veterans.

The labor force participation rate of veterans from Gulf War era I was 87.7 percent in 2009, somewhat higher than the rate of Gulf War-era II veterans (83.5 percent). The unemployment rate for Gulf War-era I veterans (7.6 percent) was lower than the rate for Gulf War-era II veterans (10.2 percent). These differences in labor force participation and unemployment reflect, at least in part, the older age profile of veterans who served in Gulf War era I. In general, older workers tend to have higher participation rates and lower unemployment rates than younger workers. Unemployment rates of Gulf War-era I veterans were similar to those of nonveterans of the same age group and gender; however, labor force participation rates were higher for female veterans than female non-veterans.

Veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam Era
In 2009, about 11.4 million veterans had served during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam era. Nearly all of these veterans were at least 55 years old, and more than half were at least 65 years old. Virtually all (97 percent) of these veterans were men. In 2009, 38.4 percent of male veterans of these earlier wartime periods were in the labor force, and their unemployment rate was 7.6 percent. Male veterans of these wartime periods had lower labor force participation rates compared with male nonveterans in the same age categories. The unemployment rates of these veterans and nonveterans were similar, however.

Veterans of Other Service Periods
In 2009, nearly 6 million veterans had served on active duty during "other service periods," mainly between the Korean War and the Vietnam era, and between the Vietnam era and Gulf War era I. Because these veterans served between the major wartime periods, which span several decades, this group has a diverse age profile. About 40 percent of these veterans were 45 to 54 years old. Another 38 percent were 65 years and over, and 14 percent were 35 to 44 years old.

Nine in 10 veterans of other service periods were men. Among most age groups, male veterans of service periods between the designated wartime periods had labor force participation rates and unemployment rates that were similar to those of male non-veterans.

Veterans with a Service-connected Disability
In August 2009, about 2.8 million veterans, or 13 percent of the total, reported having a service-connected disability. (Some veterans did not report whether they had a service-connected disability.) Veterans with a service-connected disability are assigned a disability rating by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Ratings range from 0 to 100 percent, in increments of 10 percentage points, depending on the severity of the condition. About 4 in 10 disabled veterans reported a disability rating of less than 30 percent, while about 1 in 4 had a rating of 60 percent or higher.

Among veterans who served in Gulf War era II, about 21 percent (413,000) reported having a service-connected disability. Of these, 80.5 percent were in the labor force, compared with 87.2 percent of non-disabled veterans from this period. The unemployment rate of disabled veterans from Gulf War era II was 11.8 percent, not statistically different from the rate for nondisabled veterans (12.7 percent).

About 18 percent (559,000) of veterans who served during Gulf War era I reported a service-connected disability. Their labor force participation rate (77.8 percent) was lower than the rate for veterans from the era who did not have a disability (92.8 percent). Unemployment rates for the disabled and nondisabled were not statistically different (9.3 and 8.1 percent, respectively).

Among the 1.4 million disabled veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era, 28.8 percent were in the labor force in August 2009, compared with 37.0 percent of veterans from these periods who did not have a service-connected disability. The unemployment rate of disabled veterans from these wartime periods was 5.1 percent; for their nondisabled peers, it was 7.9 percent.

Disabled veterans from other service periods had a labor force participation rate of 51.3 percent, compared with 60.1 percent for non-disabled veterans from these periods. The unemployment rate of disabled veterans from other service periods was 6.2 percent, essentially the same as for the nondisabled – 7.5 percent.

Many veterans with a service-connected disability worked in the public sector. In August 2009, 32 percent of employed disabled veterans worked in federal, state or local government, compared with 21 percent of non-disabled veterans and 14 percent of nonveterans. About 20 percent of employed disabled veterans worked for the federal government, compared with about 8 percent of nondisabled veterans and 2 percent of non-veterans.

Reserve and National Guard Membership
In both Gulf War era I and Gulf War era II, about one-third of veterans were reported to be current or past members of the Reserve or National Guard. One-half had never belonged to the Reserve or National Guard. Information on Reserve or National Guard status was not reported for the remainder.

Among Gulf War-era II veterans, those who were current or past members of the Reserve or National Guard had an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent in August 2009, compared with 13.8 percent for those who had never been members. Labor force participation rates did not differ significantly by Reserve or National Guard membership for Gulf War-era II veterans. For veterans of Gulf War era I, labor force participation rates as well as unemployment rates were similar for Reserve or National Guard members and non-members.