The unemployment rate for female veterans was lower in January than the male veteran rate for the third consecutive month, a fact that may be a reflection of the current strength of the economy and the possible impact of programs to expand women's job opportunities.
The monthly report Friday by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that the overall national unemployment rate in January edged up to 4 percent from 3.9 percent in December. The unemployment rate for all veterans was 3.7 percent, compared to 4.1 percent in January 2018.
For female veterans, the unemployment rate in January was 2.7 percent; for male veterans, it was 3.8 percent, according to the BLS report.
Among Gulf War-era II (or post-9/11) veterans, the category that has been the focus of most jobs programs, the overall unemployment rate in January was 4.2 percent, compared to 4.1 percent in January 2018.
For female post-9/11 veterans, the January 2019 unemployment rate was 1.2 percent; for male veterans, it was 4.7 percent, according to the BLS monthly report. Similar statistics showing female veterans with lower unemployment rates than male vets were reported by BLS for November and December 2018.
"We don't know for sure if we have a new pattern going on here," BLS economist James Borbely said in a phone interview before the latest figures were released.
"In terms of the why" on the current low rate for women, "the overall economy is doing well compared to what we were seeing in 2010-2011" when double-digit unemployment figures were the norm, he said.
Jobless rates for male veterans have usually been lower than those for female veterans, but "it's not all that uncommon" for female vets to have lower unemployment rates, Borbely said. Women veterans had lower unemployment rates than men in November and December 2017, and also in December of 2015, he added.
The BLS monthly report for December 2018 showed that the overall unemployment rate for veterans was 3.2 percent, compared to 3.8 percent in December 2017. The rate was 2.3 percent for female veterans and 3.3 percent for male veterans.
For post-9/11 veterans, the overall unemployment rate in December was 3.6 percent. It was 3.0 percent for female veterans and 3.7 percent for males.
In November 2018, the veterans unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, compared to 4.0 percent in November 2017, BLS said. For women veterans, the rate in November was 3.0 percent; it was 3.1 percent for male vets.
The overall unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 3.4 percent in November 2018. That broke down to 4.1 percent for female vets and 3.3 percent for men. The lower rate for male post-9/11 veterans in November was reversed in December and January.
"Any kind of a downward trend [in unemployment], especially for veterans, is great, and we've seen that in the last couple of years," Jeffrey Hall, national employment director for Disabled American Veterans, said before the latest figures were released.
He pointed to the BLS statistic of 2.3 percent unemployment for female veterans in December, saying, "That's absurdly low, in a good way."
But then he asked, "What does it indicate?"
Hall said it could be the result of years of effort by veterans service organizations and advocacy groups in making contact with employers to convince them that hiring veterans is good for their bottom line.
From his contacts, Hall said, he's found that companies are looking to hire more disabled veterans and female veterans to the point where they come to him to ask: "Can you help us find them?"
The DAV was encouraged by the employment figures, he said, "but we'd like to see if it's able to be sustained."
The goal is to sustain the low jobless rates to the point where "it won't be a trend, but just the way it is."
Although the jobless rate for female veterans has occasionally been lower than that of men previously, the numbers can come as a surprise even to those involved in advocacy.
"The numbers truly surprised me," said Dr. JoAnn Fisher, a 15-year Navy veteran and chief executive officer of Women Veterans United Committee Inc.
Retired Army Col. Ellen Haring, interim chief executive officer of the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), said, she didn't think it was that unusual that female veterans would have lower unemployment rates than men on occasion.
Haring said it is her experience that female veterans are "more likely to be employed but at lower pay" than men. She said the female vets who come to SWAN don't usually seek out the group because of employment problems.
"They come for other things -- harassment, discrimination, assault," she said.
SWAN, Women Veterans United and other groups came together last year as the Military Women's Coalition, an umbrella group of service organizations.
Women currently make up about 14 percent of the active-duty force and 9.8 percent of the nearly 21 million veterans in the nation, according to BLS.
In 2016, the Labor Department's Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) reported that the male veterans unemployment rate was 4.2 percent and the women's rate was 5.0 percent.
Despite the difference, VETS said, "The unemployment rate of all women veterans was not statistically different from all male veterans or all non-veterans of either gender."
The VETS findings from annual averages also stated, "The average duration of unemployment is shorter for women veterans than or male veterans."
In recent years, the trend has been that "Women veterans are more likely than male veterans or women non-veterans to be in the workforce and to be employed," according to the Labor Department.
The most troubling statistics on jobless rates for veterans emerged from the recession of 2008 and its aftereffects, when unemployment rates routinely were in the double digits.
In a 2014 academic paper "BLS Spotlight on Statistics: Women Veterans In the Labor Force," BLS economist Borbely and his colleague James Walker examined the employment statistics for female veterans in the period before and after the 2008 recession.
They wrote, "Unemployment rates for women veterans and nonveterans followed similar trends during the 2006-2013 period, rising and falling in a similar pattern."
According to the paper, "Rates for both groups rose during the 2007-2009 recession and have declined in recent years, but they have not returned to their pre-recession rates. The unemployment rate for women Gulf War-era II veterans has always been higher than the rate for all women veterans and nonveterans."
Borbely and Walker attributed the higher rate for the post-9/11 female veterans to their "younger age profile. The rate peaked at 12.5 percent in 2012 and declined to 9.6 percent in 2013," and the downward trend has continued to date.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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