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New Census Bureau Data Show Diverse Outcomes for Recent Army Veterans

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New U.S. Census Bureau data show that many veterans who left service during the Great Recession struggled to find stable post-military employment.

The return to civilian life brings many challenges for veterans, including re-entry into the civilian workforce. 

Younger veterans and those with lower military rank at the time of discharge tend to have lower earnings in the civilian labor market, likely reflecting lower levels of training and experience.

More than 650,000 enlisted soldiers left the U.S. Army between 2000 and 2015. New experimental Veterans Employment Outcomes (VEO) data provide the most detailed picture to date of how these veterans fared in the civilian labor market.

These data show a disparity in earnings and employment for recent veterans across military occupations and rank. Former infantry and combat veterans in particular tend to have lower earnings and employment rates after leaving service.   

VEO statistics are possible thanks to a partnership between the Census Bureau and the U.S. Army. U.S. Army partners provided valuable input on product design as well as expertise on the underlying veteran microdata.  

Military Occupations That Earn the Most in Civilian Labor Market

Former U.S. Army soldiers who were drone operators, military intelligence, cyberspace or telecommunications specialists generally have the highest earnings in the civilian labor market after leaving service.

High-paying jobs for these veterans are primarily in professional services — a sector that includes security and weapons development firms that are likely to value veterans’ experience with military technology. 

Which Veterans Have Harder Transitions to Better-Paying Jobs?

Younger veterans and those with lower military rank at the time of discharge tend to have lower earnings in the civilian labor market, likely reflecting lower levels of training and experience.

Veterans formerly employed in infantry, combat or supply occupations in the Army also generally have lower earnings and employment rates than other veterans.

Poorer employment outcomes for combat occupations may reflect a greater mismatch between their military training and the skills and certifications sought by civilian employers.

Consistent with this notion, former infantry do well in sectors where veterans from other military specialties find higher-paying jobs, such as professional services and the federal government.

However, as a group, combat veterans are more likely to start their civilian careers in lower-paying retail trade, manufacturing and support services jobs.     

Leaving the Army in a Recession

Poor labor market conditions significantly reduce the likelihood a new veteran has steady employment their first year after leaving the Army.   

Those leaving service between 2008 and 2011 were only half as likely to be steadily employed their first year as those who left at the start of the decade.

These differences in employment rates persist well into the recovery, with only slightly more than half of veterans who left between 2008 and 2011 steadily employed five years after exiting the Army. 

VEO statistics are generated by matching anonymized Army veteran records to the Census Bureau’s national longitudinal database of jobs.

VEO statistics currently cover enlisted Army veterans discharged between 2000 and 2015. You can view these stats using an interactive tool, VEO Explorer.


Erika McEntarfer is a research economist in the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies. 


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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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