Last night – when I actually wrote this thanks to the magical ability to prewrite posts for this website – something reminded me of a short discussion I had with a customer at one of the stores I worked at this week. She brought up a point I hadn’t thought about. I will, however, cheerfully admit I don’t know the protocol about military enlistment so I’m not sure at which point the problem will occur.
The gist of what she said is that I was working pretty hard at the task I was doing, but I should be glad I have the job. She then pondered out loud what the soldiers coming back from Iraq will do for jobs now that they’re being pulled out.
It’s a good query that I don’t have the answer to. Something tells me they’re not going to be cut loose right away but still the question is worth asking, particularly at a time when many of their peers from high school are protesting the stranglehold student loan payments which are coming due combined with a lack of available work is placing on them. These are the 99 percent who didn’t volunteer to join the military.
Of course, a number of those who opted to enlist did so in order to be taught a marketable skill for the time when they eventually returned to civilian life. They also have the advantage of preferences in certain areas of employment – almost every application I filled out when looking for work over the last couple years asked me specifically if I had military experience and others went further, asking certain questions in order to see if the prospective employers would qualify for a tax credit for hiring former military personnel.
Yet even with the built-in advantages, the unemployment rate for former soldiers is still several percentage points higher than for the population at large. The rate of homelessness for veterans is also rising.
It’s interesting to note that the nation had difficulty for a time with the transition from wartime to peace after World War II, when millions of soldiers came home to a country which couldn’t return to civilian life quickly enough to put them to work. As we all know, though, that was a temporary speedbump on the road to recovery and soon Americans were giving birth to the Baby Boomers, moving to suburbia, and developing a thirst for government assistance – it was in this era that the GI Bill was created, allowing returning veterans a chance to further their education and receive other benefits. Ironically, college may be the place many of these discharged veterans of 2011 go, thanks to updated versions of the GI Bill. It never went away.
But unlike World War II, this nation really didn’t have to ramp up to fight this chapter of the Long War, and aside from some of our personal liberty being usurped from us through the PATRIOT Act we didn’t have to endure collective sacrifices either. The pent-up demand isn’t going to be as high for those returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom as it was for a nation weary of rationing and collaborating against the Axis powers, all on the heels of a decade-long depression.
On the other hand, these veterans will come home to a nation which has arguably suffered through hard times for half a decade, since housing prices peaked around 2006. Once the building industry began collapsing, the domino effect on other sectors of the economy was on and even billions of dollars of government spending hasn’t brought a lasting recovery. It’s why the Occupy Wall Street crowd has no jobs to graduate to.
I’m not convinced, though, that our nation will welcome back the Iraqi Freedom (or Enduring Freedom in the case of Afghanistan) veterans with the same celebration accorded to World War II veterans – but at least they won’t be spit upon like those returning from Vietnam. Still, they come back to a nation that collectively gave up on their cause in order to have things return to a sense of normality; sadly, that normality is one of high unemployment, inflation being barely held in check, and debt up to our collective eyeballs.
After World War I, Warren Harding also campaigned on a “return to normalcy.” But instead of growing government, Harding slashed the budget in half, lowered taxes, and brought about a lengthy term of prosperity once the returning veterans were absorbed into the workforce. That’s where we got the “roaring ’20’s” from.
If we assume that our nation will be at peace for a certain period of time – obviously a very risky assumption, but one Obama and the Democrats seem to be making – then the right conditions for prosperity are possible given the proper policies in place. Those veterans coming back from Iraq, and eventually Afghanistan, may be blessed with another bout of prosperity if they can wait a year or two. I don’t see real relief coming until at least January of 2013.
That will hopefully be the end of an error and the beginning of good times for both veterans and those who chose to let them fight.