While members of the military make up a tiny fraction of the U.S. population, the unemployment rate for America’s military veterans far exceeds the national average. About 12 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unemployed, compared to 8.5 percent of Americans nationwide.
Hundreds lined up for this veterans job fair hopeful of finding work. Some are still in service, like Ernest Pisogna who is stationed in Afghanistan. This Job Fair will determine whether he re-enlists or is discharged. “I am in computers and telephones so I am going to see what they may have to offer," he said.
More than 50 companies participated. The interviewers were respectful, the vets were encouraged.
Michael Sorrentino served a total of 12 years in the military. He lost his construction job in 2008 and has been looking for steady work ever since. He recently found help at the America Works employment service.
“They don’t charge you. They don’t question you. You give them a resume. If you don’t have a suit, they give it to you. They send you to pick one up. You don’t have shoes, they send you to pick it up," Sorrentino said. "They tell you what to say on an interview. They give you lessons.”
America Works has offices in several American cities and one of its specialties is placing veterans. The service is supported financially by local, state and federal governments.
“I don’t share I am in a shelter, but if they ask me, I tell them. I will share with them. Very tough; very competitive, too. But I am sure I will find something. I am a fighter, a survivor," Frank Greene explained. Green is both unemployed and homeless.
Liz-Ann Jacobs' situation is similar. As a Naval Reservist and young mother, joblessness has meant she had to send her young child to a family in Trinidad and Tobago. Jacobs says she is on the verge of homelessness. Military duty requires her to attend monthly meetings and to ship out for a few weeks of active duty each year. Her Reserve obligation, she says, can be a problem for prospective employers.
“I feel the tension as soon as you say, 'You know what, I am in the reserves.' Their whole aspect, 'Oh my gosh, she could leave at any point in time.' And, it’s hard for me," Jacobs said. "I want to be grounded."
Lee Bowes is the chief executive officer of America Works. She says preparing veterans for job interviews is critical. “They don’t know how to prepare themselves for the private sector marketplace. Everything from having the appropriate clothing for interviews to knowing how to take the experience they’ve had in the service and translate it into the types of jobs that exist in the private market," Bowes said.
And with thousands of American men and women set to leave the military in the next couple of years, the big question is: will there be jobs for them when they get home?