A closer look at veterans in the labor force
On Veterans Day, we honor the men and women who have served our country. And our nation has quite a few veterans to thank: about 21 million! Nearly 4 million of those veterans have served since September 2001.
Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) show that veterans ages 18 and over who previously served on active duty made up 8.5 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population in 2016. Two out of 5 veterans served during the World War II (December 1941 to December 1946), Korean War (July 1950 to January 1955), and Vietnam-era (August 1964 to April 1975) conflicts; about 1 in 6 served during the Gulf War-era I period (August 1990 to August 2001); nearly 1 in 5 served during the Gulf War-era II period (September 2001 to present); and 1 in 4 served during other service periods (all other time periods). (See table 1.)
CPS data provide details about veterans’ demographics, educational attainment, and employment status.
Combined, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans make up the largest and oldest of the veteran groups, according to 2016 CPS data. The group is also the least diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. Nearly 9 out of 10 veterans who served during these wars are White. The World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era group also has the smallest proportion of women veterans for any service period: 3.6 percent.
However, the veteran population is becoming more diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. For starters, women’s share of the veteran population has grown. As chart 1 shows, nearly 18 percent of veterans who have served since September 2001 are women.
Also, the Gulf War-era I and Gulf War-era II veteran populations are more racially and ethnically diverse than the combined World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era veteran population. For example, nearly 1 out of 6 Gulf War-era II veterans—the youngest and most recent group to serve—is Black or African American, and nearly 1 out of 7 is Hispanic or Latino. (See charts 2 and 3.)
Almost all veterans had at least a high school diploma in 2016, and nearly two-thirds had completed at least some postsecondary education. As table 2 shows, higher percentages of veterans than nonveterans had an associate’s degree or some college education. A slightly smaller share of veterans than nonveterans held bachelor’s degrees. Veterans and nonveterans earned graduate degrees at a similar rate.
Unemployment and employment
In 2016, the overall unemployment rate for veterans (4.3 percent) was slightly lower than that for nonveterans (4.7 percent), and their unemployment rate varied across the country. (See map.) Those who live in Indiana had the lowest unemployment rate (1.8 percent) in 2016, and veterans living in the District of Columbia had the highest (7.6 percent).
Veterans are employed in a variety of career fields. Chart 4 shows that the most common occupations for male veterans were management, transportation, and sales occupations.
Chart 5 shows that female veterans were concentrated in office and administrative support, healthcare practitioner, and management occupations. Veterans are much more likely than nonveterans to work in the Federal government.
For more information
- Projections of occupational employment, 2016–26
- You’re a what? Peer support specialist
- Getting back to work: Returning to the labor force after an absence
The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households that provides data on employment and unemployment in the United States. Data about veterans, collected monthly, are the source of the 2016 annual averages presented in this article.
Veterans are men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and were not on active duty at the time of the survey. Nonveterans never served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
For more information, see “Employment Situation of Veterans – 2016.”
Emily Rolen, "A closer look at veterans in the labor force," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2017.