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Transitioning: Are there any jobs out there?

If you’re looking at ETSing from active duty or AGR status anytime soon, you’ve probably given some thought to the employment situation. It’s tough out there.

On the surface, the official unemployment rate – the U3 series – dropped by a point, from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent. But it did so mostly because hundreds of thousands of workers had given up the search for work. The labor force participation rate, the rate that economists use to measure the percentage of adults actually working, fell to an all-time low of 63.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To put things in perspective, if the employment participation rate had held steady instead of falling, the current unemployment rate would be 8.3 percent, and not just 8.1. And had the participation rate not been falling since 2009, the U3 data would reflect the real unemployment rate, which is closer to 11 percent, say some analysts.

Indeed, if you just look at the participation rate, you would see that the economy has lost over 350,000 workers and job slots since the recovery officially began.

Meanwhile, the less-often reported but just as significant U-6 number – the number that reflects all the unemployed including those whose unemployment benefits have run out, who are “marginally attached” to the work force, and who say they have looked for work recently or want a job, is at 14.5 percent. And 43 percent of the unemployed had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There is at least one bright spot in the gloomy jobs picture, though: A recent survey conducted by, a nationwide compensation consultancy firm, has some promising news. Their proprietary PayScale Index, which measures compensation trends in dozens of industries, is tracking a broad increase in compensation across the country.

Some key findings, from PayScale’s own analysts:

  • The Puget Sound metros lead the way in wage growth. The Seattle metro saw a 3.2% growth from Q1 2011 to Q1 2012. Houston (2.7%), Philadelphia (1.8%) and St. Louis (1.7%) were the next highest.
  • Houston's growth is partially fueled by the powerful surge in wages in the Mining, Oil & Gas Exploration industry. That industry led wage growth at 4.9% from Q1 2011 to Q1 2012.
  • While most industries grew in the past year, a lone industry saw a drop in wages from Q1 2011 to Q1 2012. Food Services & Accommodation is still fighting negative conditions and as a consequence wages declined 0.2%.
  • Workers at larger companies saw bigger wage increases than those at small companies. Large company employees enjoyed increases of 2.5%, three times the rate experienced by small company employees.

In addition, PayScale’s 2012 Compensation Best Practices Report indicated that the percentage of companies that had decreased in size over the previous year was down to 14 percent, compared to 41 percent in 2009.

Of those companies most likely to have increased in size in 2011, information, media and communications led the way with 57 percent. Other high-growth niches include warehousing and transportation, with 55 percent reporting employment expansion in 2011.


What this indicates is a fairly spotty recovery. Some of the wage increases can be explained by rising inflation, though the economy is showing signs, here and there, of a pulse.

It’s still a very tough job market out there. Unless you have some serious reserves saved up, or you’ve got a military pension coming in, you don’t want to be leaving active duty without a plan.

Focusing on finding a job in one of the growth sectors or even going back to school to earn a degree before starting a job search are two strategies to consider when making your transition from the military to a civilian career.

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