The State of Veteran and Spouse Hiring During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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(U.S. Air Force/Michael L. Watkins, Jr.)

Like many Americans, U.S. military veterans and military spouses faced severe economic challenges and unforeseen employment issues during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study from Hire Heroes USA and the Walmart Foundation details just how severe those challenges were.

Hire Heroes USA releases the report annually, but the latest report has some surprising findings, detailed from the experiences of more than 46,000 transitioning service members, veterans and spouses who all participated in job searches in 2020.

The nonprofit offers personalized job coaching, resume help, workshops and more to military-connected job hunters. Its annual report includes data from its efforts, and the latest report reflects employment issues brought on by pandemic restrictions.

The veteran unemployment rate hit 14.7% in April 2020, the peak of veteran unemployment during the first phase of the pandemic, spanning the year 2020. It currently sits at 3.3%, according to the Department of Labor, less than 1% lower than the overall rate of 3.9%.

The number of virtual events (such as job fairs) held by Hire Heroes USA increased 130% during that time period. It also saw an increase in the number of registered attendees. That number jumped by 240%.

Most importantly, more of those registrants reported being unemployed during registration, and the time period in which they were unemployed increased from a median of 12 weeks to 16 weeks.

The organization also saw the largest-ever decrease in the number of active-duty registrants to their programs. Hire Heroes believes this is because more people decided to stay in the military to weather the pandemic instead of separating as planned, the report said.

Those who did sign up for transition services ahead of their separation dates were more likely to be senior personnel. Junior enlisted troops are waiting for 10 months or longer after separating before seeking job services. Junior enlisted veterans are also less likely to attend virtual webinars and career fairs.

Spouses were hit significantly harder by pandemic restrictions and economic fallout than military members, experiencing higher rates of hiring freezes, virtual interviews, layoffs and rescinded job offers, according to the report.

Hire Heroes considers the trends in spouse employment and junior enlisted registration as "alarming" and believes the trends should be a "wake-up call" to veteran and military communities.

Figures from the report weren't all bad, however. The top employer for those who used Hire Heroes USA services was Amazon, the first time a civilian employer topped the list. Pay gaps between male and female employees narrowed by more than a third, and more registrants who were employed reported meeting or exceeding their desired salaries during the time period.

Today's job market is a crowded one, despite the gains made in the wake of the pandemic. Virtual job fairs are still seeing peak registrations, and spouses are still getting hit the hardest by hiring restrictions.

For military members and spouses looking to leave the military in the coming year, the report will make at least one thing clear: It's never too early to start thinking about transitioning.

Read the entire Hire Heroes USA annual report here.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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