By SAM INGLOT
Capital News Service
LANSING–Among soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, those in Michigan face the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Nearly 30 percent of them are unemployed, according to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. The national average is less than half of that – 11.5 percent in 2010.
Despite having a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Iraqi war veteran Chris Balmes said he found it extremely difficult to find a job when he returned to Michigan in 2007.
His situation is not uncommon, Balmes said. He said he knows many soldiers who have returned home only to struggle to find a place in the workforce.
The problem is not prevalent only in Michigan; the national post-9/11 veteran unemployment numbers prompted President Obama to speak out about the issue when introducing his American Jobs Act.
Obama outlined a program to give businesses a tax credit of up to $5,600 if they hire unemployed post-9/11 veterans. Those who hire veterans with service-related disabilities could receive a $9,600 tax credit.
He also challenged the private sector to create more jobs for returning and unemployed soldiers.
Some Michigan business officials are uncertain as to how the tax credit would affect the unemployment rate.
Delaney Newberry, director of human resource policy for the Michigan Manufacturers Association said the numbers were “startling” but could not say if the tax incentive would reduce unemployment.
Adding to the uncertainty of how the tax credit would help get soldiers back to work is the question of whether the president’s proposed act will even pass in Congress, given the political climate in Washington, D.C., said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.
Both veteran advocacy organizations and Michigan state veterans officials struggle to explain why Michigan veterans rank as the most unemployed in the nation.
“It’s really hard to say right now, there’s not enough research and there’s not enough details into the problem,” said Isabel Black, press secretary for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a veteran resource and advocacy group.
A study by the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed employers about issues they find when it comes to hiring people with military experience.
According to the study, 60 percent of employers said translating military experience into civilian job experience was a problem when hiring, and 48 percent thought the transition from the military workplace to the civilian workplace created issues as well.
Capt. Aaron Jenkins, the director of public affairs with the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said he could not draw a conclusion as to why the numbers were so high but said there is an array of services that are provided to get veterans back to work once they come home from deployment.
The GI Bill provides money for college and job training, he said. Other help is provided by online veteran employment websites, programs which can get veterans back into their former places of work and a job fair taking place in November with employers specifically looking for skill sets unique to soldiers.
“The veterans have done so much for this country and it’s the least the country can do to get them a job so they can continue to take care of their families because that is what the veterans have done for us. They’ve been taking care of us,” he said.
The numbers will improve as Michigan’s economy improves, he said.
Michigan has struggled with high unemployment for years but there does not seem to be a correlation between total unemployment and the number of unemployed veterans. Both California and Nevada have higher overall unemployment rates but show significantly lower unemployment rates for veterans.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By SAM INGLOT