MADELEINE BRAND, host:
As the debate about the nation's economy continues in Congress, many Americans are trying to resolve their own individual financial troubles, especially as unemployment numbers continue to grow. Around the world, more than 70,000 jobs were cut yesterday at companies like Caterpillar, Sprint-Nextel and Home Depot. Chicago Public Radio's Adriene Hill reports on one sector of the population facing a particularly tough employment transition.
ADRIENE HILL: Jason Jarmoe(ph) served in the U.S. Army for seven years. He's a handsome, clean-cut, 33-year-old drinking a cup of coffee at a cafe in Chicago. He's been out of the military since October of 2003, and has clear memories of his transition from military life to the civilian working world.
Mr. JASON JARMOE: Well, it's a totally different mentality. I mean, you're like, you're talking about two different responsibility levels. I mean, we're talking about you being solely in charge of a 15 or even $20 million helicopter and then, eventually, maybe even 10 of them. And then, you go from that to really nothing. It's kind of difficult, you know? It'd be like being a CEO of a company and then going back to the mailroom.
HILL: Jarmoe was able to make the transition, and had some good jobs before the economy tanked. He worked in Chicago as a construction manager, a field that is pretty much dried up. And because of money, his wife and two kids moved back in with her parents in Michigan. But Jarmoe says he learned a lot in the military.
Mr. JARMOE: It prepares you more, you know, for - you know, life and stuff, definitely. Those are tools that I take on everything I do. Even in work, your work ethic, everything else. It does change.
HILL: But that work ethic hasn't always turned into actual work for a lot of young veterans. According to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans who served in the military since September of 2001 had a higher rate of unemployment than their civilian counterparts. Older vets actually do better in the workforce than non-vets.
The federal government has created programs to help veterans find work. It has a jobs Web site and transition training for vets. But over a beer at a billiard hall in Darien, Illinois, 29-year-old Dean Kenzer(ph) says he doesn't feel like his military experience has helped him in the job hunt.
Mr. DEAN KENZER: A lot of times, employers will avoid the subject of it because I think they feel like they don't understand or don't want - it's kind of a sensitive subject. I don't think it's really helped me out, to be honest with you, I thought it would.
HILL: Kenzer served in the Army for nearly four years, including a tour in Iraq. He says when he returned home, he felt unappreciated.
Mr. KENZER: Not only did the people lose taste for the war or interest, but the patriotism, you know, the people with their yellow flag bumper stickers and all that stuff has gone away. You know, you kind of feel empty.
HILL: Kenzer went to college after he got out of the Army, a big chunk of it paid for by the G.I. Bill. He's been looking for a job since October, living with his sister, and working for the company she manages. Dean Kenzer says he makes $11 an hour, doesn't get benefits, and he says he owes about $1,500 a month in bills and child support.
Mr. KENZER: It's been demeaning and humiliating and, you know, nobody likes to ask for money, and I've had to do that a lot. And it's been tough.
HILL: In spite of his frustrations, Kenzer says he'd enlist again if he had to do it over because, he says, it helped make him a better leader. And somewhat surprisingly, he's optimistic about the future. His dream is to one day run a company. For NPR News, I'm Adriene Hill in Chicago.
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