Challenges and Opportunities for Idaho Veterans

U.S. military veterans play an important role in the Idaho workforce and in their local communities. Sometimes veterans tend to be older than their nonveteran counterparts and face a unique set of challenges. Their armed services training often gives veterans specialized and transferrable skills that are marketable in the civilian economy. The employment services offered by the Idaho Department of Labor and its partner agencies also help our veteran population manage some of the challenges they face in the workforce.

Veterans Demographics by the Numbers

The percentage of Idahoans aged 18 and over claiming veteran status is 8.6%, about 1.3 times the national average [1]. Wartime-era veterans are represented in Figure 1. From a total of 122,000 veterans, this leaves a balance of 16,838 veterans living in Idaho who fall under the “other wartime service” category, including service in Afghanistan, the War on Terror and later conflicts.

Figure 1

Nationally, the overall population of veterans is declining; however, the number of female veterans is on the rise. It is also worth noting that post-9/11 veterans have the highest rate of service-connected disabilities among all groups of veterans.[2]

Consider these additional veteran demographics:

  • The 2020 U.S. Census indicated 18 million people, or about 7% of the adult population, were veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
  • The number of veterans in the U.S. declined by about one-fourth from the year 2000 to present (NCVAS).
  • Women make up a growing share of veterans: about 1.7 million, or 9% of veterans. (2020 Census)
  • By 2040, 17% of all veterans will be women, according to officials from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
  • Only 240,000 World War II veterans are alive, down from the 5.7 million counted in 2000. VA officials estimate 933,000 Korean War veterans are alive today.
  • In 2021, the largest cohort of veterans alive served during the Gulf War Era, totaling 7.8 million. The second largest group served during the Vietnam Era, comprising 5.9 million veterans, while 4 million served during peacetime (VA).
  • The median age of veterans in 2023 was 58 years old (VA).
  • In 2021, 49% of U.S. veterans were 65 years and older (American Community Survey).
  • By service period, post-9/11 veterans were the youngest with a median age of about 40, Vietnam Era veterans had a median age of about 74 and World War II veterans were the oldest with a median age of about 96 (Census).
  • Veterans from recent service periods have the highest levels of education. More than 75% of post-9/11 and Gulf War veterans had at least some college experience, and more than one-third of Gulf War veterans had a college degree (Pew Research).
  • Post-9/11 veterans had a 43% chance of having a service-connected disability, after accounting for differences in demographic and social characteristics among veterans —this is significantly higher than veterans from other periods (Pew Research).
  • In 2021, 30.1% of U.S. veterans had a disability versus 14.5% in the nonveteran population (American Community Survey).
  • Among veterans with a service-connected disability, post-9/11 veterans had a 39% chance of having a disability rating of 70% or more — also significantly higher than veterans from other periods (Pew Research).

Idaho ranks fifth in the nation in terms of percentage decline in veteran population, decreasing 10% from 2000 to 2020. By comparison, the state with the lowest veteran population decline was Hawaii at 5%. New Jersey had the highest veteran population decline at 48%.

The VA has retroactively tracked the veteran population trend since 2015 out to a 2045 projection (Figure 2). The decline in veterans for Idaho (-1.02%) is slower than the national rate (1.82%). VA officials expect to see a 27% veteran decline in Idaho from 2015 to 2045, as denoted in Figure 2, and a 42% veteran population decline nationally for that same 30-year span.[3] The past and future projected decline in the U.S. veteran population is mostly due to more Americans serving in conflicts from World War II through the Korean War and into the Vietnam War, and the general decline in Americans actively serving in the armed forces since.

Figure 2

Figure 3 charts the future VA age-projection model data for Idaho veterans. Note the downward trend projected over time on the bar chart. When projecting future trends, it is important to consider new enlistees are added every five years to active duty. Nationally, projections indicate the veteran population will become slightly younger, even as the overall U.S. population continues to age. By 2046, it is expected that 33% of veterans will be younger than age 50, compared with 27% recorded in 2021. By 2046, the share of veterans aged 50 to 69 is expected to decrease from 36% to 33%, while those aged 70 and older are predicted to make up nearly one-third of the total veteran population at 34%, which is slightly lower than their current share of 37%. [4]

Figure 3

Idaho’s projections for gender representation and the narrowing of the gender gap in the future veteran population are based on the VA model, which is updated every five years (Figure 4). The demographic profile of veterans is expected to change in the next quarter-centuryCurrently, about 89% of veterans are men and 11% are women, according to the VA’s 2021 population model estimates. By 2046, the population of female veterans is expected to increase from 2 million to 2.2 million (18% of the share of the total veteran population). However, the number of male veterans is projected to drop from about 17 million in 2021 to around 10.3 million in 2046. [5] 

Figure 4

As with trends in the overall national population, the veteran population is expected to become more racially and ethnically diverse in Idaho (Figure 5). Between 2021 and 2046, the share of veterans who are non-Hispanic White is expected to drop from 74% to 62% nationally. The share of veterans who are Hispanic is expected to double from 8% to 16%, while those who are African American are expected to increase slightly from 13% to 15%. [6]

Figure 5

Idaho Veteran Participation in the Labor Force

It is also important to address veteran participation in the Idaho labor force. Figure 6 denotes both the national and state subset of veteran labor force participation with one exception. Veteran workers are counted at age 18 and over (enlistment age), rather than the conventional labor force participation age of 16 and over. These BLS figures for 2022 represent annual averages for employment, unemployment, and the combined civilian workforce. Idaho’s veteran labor force participation rate was 44.7%, about three percent lower than the national average. Similarly, the percentage of employed veterans was 43.3%, also three percent lower than the national average. Idaho’s unemployed veteran labor force percentage was 3.3%, half a percent higher than the national rate. [7]

Figure 6

The gap between veteran and nonveteran labor force participation is partially due to demographic makeup, with the U.S. veteran population skewing older, male, and more likely to have some kind of disability. One way to break the veteran-nonveteran participation gap down along observable characteristics is the regression-based Kitagawa-Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition. The observed gap in labor force participation can be accounted for by differences in observable characteristics (the “explained” differences) together with differences in how these observable characteristics relate to the outcome (the “unexplained” differences).

Figure 7 presents a breakdown of the U.S. veteran labor force participation gap by sex, based on the 2021 American Community Survey sample. Among males, about seven-tenths of the participation gap was due to differences in the age composition of veterans and nonveterans, while another 15% was due to differences in disability status. Difference in marital status and educational attainment between male veterans and nonveterans appeared to help close the participation gap. Overall, about three-fourths of the male participation gap can be explained by differences in age, marital status, educational attainment, and disability status. By contrast, the veteran participation gap was negligible among females.

Figure 7

Data: 2021 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

Note: Weighted linear regression models by sex with binned age, marital status, educational attainment, and disability variables without interactions; individuals 16 years and older.

In other variations of the regression model, outcomes were generally consistent with about a fifth to a quarter of the male veteran participation gap unexplained by observable characteristics. Some of the reasons why veterans might be less likely to work or seek work compared to their nonveteran counterparts include: the benefit of a pension if they served a full career in the armed services; initial difficulties transitioning into the civilian workforce due to skills mismatch or differences in the opportunity costs of employment for veterans; and veterans beginning college/university later in life (students are not considered in the labor force while they are in school).

Despite some challenges they face in the civilian workforce, veterans also have some marked advantages in the labor market. Among their marketable skills are several soft skills that are indispensable including teamwork, leadership, time management, and problem solving. Employer respondents to Idaho Labor’s 2023 Business Climate Survey [8] reported these skills as currently lacking in their workforce and expect an increasing demand for them in the coming years.

Idaho veterans benefit from a robust social services support network across the state. The programs and services available are designed for veterans to improve their station in life as a civilian once they finish military service.

The Idaho Department of Labor has a team of Veteran Service representatives who provide targeted support to local veterans as they navigate the job market and life after service [9]. This may include vocational guidance including career assessments; degree and apprenticeship programs; general labor market information including available job openings; information on community resources, veteran employment and vocational rehabilitation programs through the VA; assistance for veterans facing homelessness and other difficulties; as well as workshop opportunities including resume and interview preparation.

Other state programs, while not exclusive to veterans, might also be valuable to Idaho’s veteran population. Many employers prefer hiring veterans, and job search tools like IdahoWorks [10] allow employers to identify veteran job seekers. Veterans with disabilities can use the Able to Work [11] tool to search for jobs as well as find information on vocational rehabilitation, working while receiving disability benefits and general knowledge on disability rights and the law. Idaho Launch can help veterans acquire new skills through an earned certificate or an apprenticeship program, and funding can also be applied in conjunction with an individual’s GI Bill benefits [12]. Programs funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) are also available for veterans and nonveterans who are having employment difficulties [13].

Works Cited:

  1. U.S. Census Bureau (2021). American Community Survey 1-year estimates
  2. U.S. Census: Post-9/11 Veterans More Likely to Have a Service-Connected Disability. June 2, 2020, Jonathan Vespa
  3. The US Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, Predictive Analytics Service. Veteran Population: May 3, 2019
  4. Pew Research Center: The changing face of America’s veteran population. April 5, 2021, Katherine Schaeffer
  5. U.S. Census: Demographic Turning Points for the U.S.: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060. Feb. 2020, Armstrong, Medina, and Vespa
  6. U.S. Census: Those Who Served: America’s Veterans From World War II to the War on Terror. June 2, 2020, Jonathan Vespa
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, Employment Situation of Veterans. Modified March 21, 2023
  8. National Center for Veterans Analysis & Statistics: 2000 -2020
  9. Idaho Department of Labor, Idaho Employer Business Climate Survey, August 2023
  14., labor economist
Idaho Department of Labor
208-557-2500 ext. 3628, labor economist
Idaho Department of Labor
208-236-6710 ext. 4249