Veterans Face New Enemy: Unemployment More than 2,500 veterans flocked to the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft docked along the Hudson River in Manhattan, for a job fair Monday. While the unemployment rate in New York is 9 percent, it's nearly double that for combat-age veterans. One challenge is that their skills aren't easily understood by employers.
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Veterans Face New Enemy: Unemployment

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Veterans Face New Enemy: Unemployment

Veterans Face New Enemy: Unemployment

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Well, the job market has been bleak for months, military veterans are having an especially hard time. In New York state, the unemployment rate for combat age vets tops 15 percent.

NPR's Jim Zarroli attended a job fair for vets in New York City that drew more than 2,500 people.

JIM ZARROLI: It was perhaps fitting that the job fair was held aboard the Intrepid, the decommissioned aircraft carrier that's now a museum. Many of those who showed up had been out of the service for years. Forty-four-year-old Kenneth Gary fought in the first Gulf War.

Mr. KENNETH GARY: I was on a tank - M1 tanker. So it was - you pretty much can't do nothing with tanks out here.

ZARROLI: After leaving the Army, he got an associates degree and went to work at Costco until he was laid off early this year. Now he's on food stamps for the first time and looking for anything he can find.

Mr. GARY: From January until October, I was living on my 401K. Now it's run out. Now I need a permanent job right now.

ZARROLI: So, what's the job market like right now?

Mr. GARY: Tough. Really, really tough. As you can see, there's a lot of people out here looking for jobs.

ZARROLI: In fact, a long line of job hunters snake down the Hudson River as far as the eye could see. Once inside, they could talk to several dozen recruiters, a lot from public sector employers like Amtrak, but also some from FedEx and Sears. Wayne Packer was there from Lowe's.

Mr. WAYNE PACKER: We're actually building about five stores here in the metro New York City market. And we're looking for leaders within our stores and probably about 700 total hourly employees to work in this location.

ZARROLI: Among those who approached his table was Gill Iken(ph), a Vietnam vet who's just been laid off after many years at the same company. He showed Packer his resume.

Mr. GILL IKEN (Vietnam Veteran): I was a loyal employee for the company. (unintelligible) look how long I've been there.

Mr. PACKER: Oh yeah. Oh, my heavens. Look at that. My goodness, 40 years, that's fantastic.

ZARROLI: Before he was laid off, Iken worked at a company that prints newspapers, not exactly a growth industry these days. The job hunt is just as tough for less experienced vets. Twenty-nine-year-old Roberto Alor has spent almost two years looking for work after leaving the Army. Now he sleeps on his parent's sofa. He says he'll work anywhere, even McDonald's.

Mr. ROBERTO ALOR: I'm starting to looking for a job, but every time I look for a job they need people with experience plus people with education, which I couldn't, because every time I was in the Army, I had to drop my classes because the country's first.

ZARROLI: It's a common complaint. New York commissioner of labor Patricia Smith says many returning vets have been called back to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan several times. And so they've had trouble completing their education.

Ms. PATRICIA SMITH (Labor Commissioner, New York): What we're seeing is that veterans' lives are disrupted, I think, in ways that we hadn't seen in the past. I mean, it's a tough unemployment climate for anyone, but for someone like that I think it becomes ever more difficult.

ZARROLI: And without a degree, says Joseph McDonough, you're basically nowhere. McDonough got out of the Marines a few months ago and still has the haircut to prove it. He used to run a warehouse at Camp Lejeune. But like a lot of vets here he believes most employers don't really value military service.

Mr. JOSEPH MCDONOUGH: The only people who actually see it as being anything glorious are people who are like senior citizens, who know that somebody sacrificed something. Now it's, oh, they went away. They didn't go away to college. I went to college. I know more than them. They kind of, like, sneer at you.

ZARROLI: But like any good Marine, McDonough is nothing if not self-reliant. He's looking for a temporary job to pay the bills, but then he plans to go to college to study accounting.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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