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April 1990, Vol. 113, No. 4
Employment status of Vietnam-era veterans
Sharon R. Cohany
Most of the men and women who served in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam era appear to have had the same degree of success in the labor market as their contemporaries who did not serve in the military. However, those who actually served in the Southeast Asian theater, and especially those with service-connected disabilities, continue to experience greater employment-related difficulties than their peers.
These findings are from a special supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS), conducted in November 1987, in which men and women who served during the Vietnam era were asked about aspects of their prior military experience, including their disability status and location of service.1 (Information was also obtained on the disability status of all other veterans.) The special survey was sponsored jointly by the Department of Veterans Affairs (formerly the Veterans Administration) and two Department of Labor agencies: the Veterans Employment and Training Service and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A similar survey of veterans was conducted in April 1985.2
Labor force status
As of November 1987, there were 7.9 million male veterans who had served during the Vietnam era, defined as the period from August 1964 to April 1975. Nearly all (93 percent) were between the ages of 30 and 54, with the highest concentration (67 percent) between the ages of 35 and 44. These individuals comprise a significant part of their generation: about 1 in 3 men in the 35- to 44-year age group is a veteran. About half of these veterans actually served in the Vietnam theater of operations-that is, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and nearby waters and airspace.3 (See table 1.) Information on the 250,000 female veterans of the era and on male veterans from other service periods is provided in separate sections at the end of the article.
While a few Vietnam-era veterans have only recently retired from military service, most made the transition to civilian life more than a decade ago. There is a strong expectation that these men will be in the labor force, because at their ages, they typically have significant financial responsibility for themselves and their families. Thus, one important measure of the economic performance of Vietnam-era veterans is their labor force participation rate, or the proportion of the total that are working or seeking work. The vast majority of both Vietnam theater and nontheater veterans are, in fact, in the labor forceó92 percent as of November 1987. Their participation rate was little different from that of nonveterans of the same ages. (Because nearly all of the veterans were between the ages of 30 and 54, references to nonveterans will be based on this age group, except where noted.)
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1 Information from the November 1987 CPS supplement was released initially as news release USDL 88-489, "BLS Reports on Labor Market Situation among Disabled Veterans of the Vietnam Era," Sept. 30, 1988. Historical data on Vietnam-era veterans are found in Employment and Earnings, a monthly BLS publication, and The Employment Situation, a monthly BLS news release.
The CPS, a survey of about 60,000 households, is conducted monthly for the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the Bureau of the Census. The CPS provides information on the employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population, as well as the demographic, occupational, and other characteristics of the employed, the unemployed, and persons not in the labor force. The November 1987 survey was taken during the week of the 15th through the 21st and refers to the status of individuals during the preceding week (November 8 through 14).
As with any sample survey, the CPS is subject to both sampling and nonsampling errors. Several possible sources of nonsampling error are of particular interest with respect to the veterans' supplement. One such source is the use of proxy respondents. The CPS respondent ordinarily is any responsible member of the household age 14 or over. However, due to the subjective nature of some of the supplementary items, interviewers were instructed to make three attempts to contact the actual veteran before asking the questions of another household member. Proxy responses were obtained for approximately 25 percent of the veterans surveyed. Another potential source of nonsampling error is the long recall period, which may be 20 years or even more for some Vietnam-era veterans. For a further description of the survey and possible sampling and nonsampling errors, see the section "Explanatory Notes" of Employment and Earnings.
2 See Sharon R. Cohany, "Labor force status of Vietnam-era veterans," Monthly Labor Review, February 1987, pp. 11-17.
3 Note that service in the war theater does not necessarily imply exposure to combat. For a study that includes an analysis of the effects of combat, see Myths and Realities: A Study of Attitudes toward Vietnam Era Veterans, Submitted by the Veterans administration to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, July 1980.
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