Is Enough Being Done to Prepare Veterans for Civilian Jobs? – By Andrew Soergel March 20, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EDT

Unemployment rates among veterans are declining, but former service members are still struggling to enter the labor force.

A soldier salutes the flag on June 15, 2011, during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan to Fort Carson, Colorado.

A soldier salutes the flag on June 15, 2011, during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan to Fort Carson, Colorado.

Holly Mosack intended to go into the Army Reserve once she graduated from Northwestern University in 1997. A Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship helped pay Mosack’s way through college, but a three-week stint at the U.S. Army Airborne School between her junior and senior years changed her course.

“While it was only three weeks, that’s just where I fell in love with the Army and the people,” says Mosack, who after her senior year was commissioned as an officer in the Army. “Just being around the soldiers is what I love.”

Fast-forward to 2004. Mosack had just concluded a seven-year military career and was in the process of what many veterans describe as the daunting transition into the civilian labor force.

[READ: The Biggest Problem Veterans Still Face]

“That transition was very difficult. My life was the military. The people I knew were the military,” Mosack says. “While I knew I had some credentials – I went to Northwestern, a great school – I didn’t have the confidence. What can I do in this civilian world? I got this degree in journalism several years ago. I don’t think I want to go into that. What am I going to do?”

Many veterans ask that very same question upon entering the civilian world. The Labor Department on Wednesday estimated 21.2 million veterans were living in the U.S. at the end of 2014, making up about 9 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population – those who are not on active military duty or in mental health facilities or jails – at least 18 years of age.

And while the military has some programs in place to help with reacclimation, the career counselors and guidance afforded to the average college student as they shape the rest of their lives far exceeds the help many veterans of the same age receive, especially if their military skill sets don’t translate well into the civilian labor force. Many veterans need to fend for themselves to get a job while adjusting to life back home.

“They do have a transition process. Every service member goes through this – how to write a resume and whatnot,” says Mosack, who is now a director of employee communications at Advanced Technology Services, a company that specializes in improving workplace productivity, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

“But you’re so used to, when you’re in the military, those processes. When you go to the doctor, you don’t have a copay. You don’t have to do anything,” she says. “You’re kind of catered to, and when it comes time to find a job, people are expecting that same help, and it’s not there. And I think that sends a lot of veterans into a world of panic once they’re getting out.”

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These are the 10 cities where the job market improved the most in the last year – Updated by Danielle Kurtzleben on December 30, 2014, 5:20 p.m. ET

It looks like the job market finally got on track at the end of this year. The last jobs report showed the fastest job growth in nearly three years. Of course, that growth isn’t evenly spread — some areas of the country are rebounding fast while others are getting worse.

On Tuesday, the Labor Department released the latest figures for metro areas, giving a better picture of the geography of the labor market’s improvement.

Cities fast job markets

Clearly, Illinois dominates this list, claiming four the top five spots, led by Decatur, whose unemployment rate fell by 4.3 percentage points, to 7.9 percent. An improving economy of course plays into that — the Decatur Herald-Review reports that employment in a range of industries, like healthcare and transportation, has grown lately, and the latest Fed Beige Book shows that the Chicago Fed District has seen a boost in manufacturing and construction.

But it might not all be good news — as that Herald-Review news story points out, people have also been leaving the labor force, which can push the unemployment rate down even when the job market isn’t really improving. And some cities simply have a lot of room for improvement — unemployment in Yuma, Arizona, dropped by 4.2 percentage points, but is still at 23.1 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, these were the cities whose job markets worsened the most this year.

Metro area unemployment rates

As in the top chart, one state dominates this list: Louisiana, claiming the eight fastest-worsening unemployment rates among US metro areas. That may in part be because payroll growth has stalled in many industries, but it could also be that people are entering the labor force — an encouraging sign — faster than they can find jobs. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune,local economists think this may be happening — just the opposite of what may be going on in Decatur, where the rate is plummeting.

The unemployment rate is the number of number of people looking for a job divided by the total size of the labor force. This means that the unemployment rate often misses a lot of discouraged people who have stopped looking for work but would love a job if they could find one.

The flipside of the unemployment rate is the employment rate, the ratio of people with jobs to the total size of the labor force. It is rare to hear anything about the employment rate. Instead, a more commonly discussed statistic is the employment-population ratio-the ratio of people with jobs to all people, including children, retirees, homemakers and others who aren’t in the labor force.

The unemployment rate rose sharply in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and has been falling since 2010. Currently it stands at 5.9 percent.

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