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June 1992, Vol. 115, No. 6
Sharon R. Cohany
I t is widely accepted that the war in Vietnam influenced the lives and careers of millions, perhaps none more so than those who served in the military during that period. The effect of military service on the economic well-being of the 8 million veterans of the period, and especially of the nearly 4 million who actually served in the war theater, continues to be the focus of study and public policy 15 years after the war's end. This article compares the labor force activity and earnings of Vietnam-era veterans and their nonveteran contemporaries as of the fall of 1989.1
The study is based on data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a household survey conducted monthly for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) by the Bureau of the Census. Since 1985, BLS has had a congressional mandate to collect detailed information on the employment status of veterans on a biennial basis, particularly of those veterans who served in the Vietnam war theater and those with disabilities. The analysis in this article is based on a survey that was conducted as a supplement to the September 1989 CPS. Similar surveys were conducted in April 1985 and November 1987.2
As of September 1989, there were 8.1 million veterans of the Vietnam era, which extends from August 1964 to May 1975.3 The composition of this population is considerably different from that of the population as a whole. Nearly all of the veterans were men, of whom almost 90 percent were 35 to 54 years of age.4 The analysis in this article focuses on men in this age group, of whom few are in school or retired and whose labor force participation is very high. (Limited information about female veterans, as well as male veterans from other periods of service, is provided later in the article.)
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1 An earlier version of the article appeared in the 1990 Proceedings of the Government Statistics Section, American Statistical Association, pp. 28-33. Information was released initially as news release USDL 90-347, "Employment Situation of Vietnam-era Veterans," July 10, 1990.
2 The CPS is the Nation's primary source of information on employment and unemployment. Each month, approximately 60,000 households are surveyed nationwide. In a supplement to the September 1989 survey, questions were asked of persons 18 years and older regarding their prior service in the Armed Forces. The questions were cosponsored by the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service and Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As with any such survey, the CPS is subject to both sampling and nonsampling errors. Two sources of nonsampling error that are of particular interest with respect to the veterans' supplement are the use of proxy respondents and nonresponses to the survey. Regarding the proxy issue, the CPS respondent ordinarily is any responsible member of the household age 15 or older. However, due to the subjective and retrospective nature of various supplementary items, interviewers were instructed to make three attempts to contact the veteran before asking another household member the survey questions. Using this procedure, proxy responses were obtained for approximately 25 percent of the veterans surveyed (compared with about 45 percent of the full CPS sample). Even with the use of proxy respondents, responses to the supplementary items were not obtained for 9 percent of the veterans.
Another potential source of nonsampling error is the long recall period, which for Vietnam-era veterans, can extend to more than 20 years. For a further description of the survey, including possible sampling and nonsampling errors, see the section "Explanatory Notes" in the BLS monthly periodical Employment and Earnings.
The September 1989 survey was conducted during the week of the 17th through the 23rd and refers to the status of individuals in the preceding week (September 10 through 16). the sample contained about 4,000 Vietnam-era male veterans and 11,000 male nonveterans between the ages of 35 and 54. Standard errors for this study were computed from generalized variance functions that were adapted by the Census Bureau for the September 1989 supplement. The comparisons discussed should be considered significant at the 90-percent confidence level, unless otherwise stated.
For a presentation of the findings of the 1985 and 1987 veterans supplements to the CPS, see the two Monthly Labor Review articles by Sharon R. Cohany, "Labor force status for Vietnam-era veterans," February 1987, pp.11-17; and "Employment and unemployment of Vietnam-era veterans,"April 1990, pp. 22-29. basic information on the labor force status of Vietnam veterans is published monthly in Employment Situation, a monthly BLS news release and in Employment and Earnings.
3 Vietnam-era veterans are men and women who served in the Armed Forces between August 5, 1964, and May 7, 1975, who are no longer on active duty, and who are currently in the noninstitutional population. This means that they are not necessarily representative of all who served in the military during the period. Among other things, they are the survivors and, hence, do not reflect those who have died (whether during the war or after it). Also, some who served in the military during the Vietnam era are still on active duty. Others are in long-term institutions such as nursing homes and prisons, which are outside the scope of the survey.
4 There were over 440,000 Vietnam-era veterans between the ages of 30 and 34; they entered the service at the end of the era, and few saw duty in the war theater. Another 600,000 veterans were 55 years or older; they were for the most part, career personnel and also not generally thought of as part of the "Vietnam generation."
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