In all the talk about jobs, there is one group usually left out of the discussion: military veterans.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over eight percent of adults were unemployed in 2011. But among the 1.9 million who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of unemployed is 12.1 percent. For vets between the ages of 18 and 24, the percentage is 29.1.
These numbers would be even worse if it weren't for the Veterans' Preference Act which gives vets a slight edge in obtaining civil service employment.
Yet those currently leaving the military are facing a federal work force targeted by deficit hawks, such as Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, whose budget calls for a 10-percent reduction in these positions.
Veterans also have problems in getting the training necessary for many jobs, as the GI Bill and the college tuition situation aren't what they used to be. According to the Center for American Progress, "the challenges and barriers being encountered by veterans at many institutions make it more likely that ex-GIs will leave college with debts instead of degrees."
Contrast this with the GI Bill, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act, right after it was enacted in 1944: In the following decade, more than 2 million veterans attended college and left with degrees rather than debts. This resulted in an additional 450,000 engineers, 360,000 teachers, 180,000 health professionals, and 150,000 scientists.
Today, most of those studying science and engineering in our colleges are foreign students, more and more of whom do not work here after graduation but return to their home countries. This is a main reason many American companies move their production overseas, as this is where the highly trained workers are.
Such a deal.
We aren't sufficiently investing in our veterans. We aren't sufficiently investing in our country. We of course did so after WWII, when we not only produced over a million highly trained professionals, we created the middle class we are now losing.
Today we could use a million highly trained professionals, particularly scientists and engineers. We could also use at least twice this number of trained technicians. We could thus reduce our unemployment and help keep companies at home.
We could. But a significant portion of our political leaders are reluctant to invest in our vets, or other unemployed. Somehow, the global market is supposed to solve our unemployment problem.
Well, it won't. In fact, it is a main cause of this problem, shifting jobs overseas.
We need a little of the Greatest Generation spirit. You can't accuse them of being self-centered and greedy, of contributing to extreme wealth inequality. Their wealthiest one-percent paid income taxes at 90 percent for 20 years. They invested in veterans and in their country.
And look what they accomplished, what they gave us. And look how we are squandering it.
A significant portion of our political leaders (yes the Republicans) talk a good game of concern for future generations but seem incapacitated by their ideology when it comes to investing in the current generation as the Greatest Generation did in theirs.
After winning WWII they took care of their generation and in so doing gave later generations a running start. Yet the current GOP proposes to help the next generation by not taking care of this one, instead turning it over to the global market.
Such thinking stems in large part from three factors: (1) the GOP presidential candidate once headed a firm that shifted many jobs overseas, (2) the Republican-dominated Supreme Court has decreed that corporations are persons, and (3) conservative commentators like George Will have declared that labor is a commodity.
But labor of course is not a commodity. It is workers, persons. And now we have too many persons, including veterans, who are out of work and in need of job training and job opportunities.
They need some government action like that of the Greatest Generation. Our passively relying on the global marketplace will only make matters worse.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)