Clatsop County’s low unemployment rate may be making life easier for job-hungry military veterans, who account for a relatively large percentage of the local population.
The county is home to 3,800 veterans, or about 10 percent of the population. Roughly 7 percent of all U.S. citizens, by comparison, are veterans.
From 2011 to 2015, the unemployment rate among veterans in the Clatsop County was 6.4 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall unemployment in the county was 7.1 percent. While up-to-date data about veteran joblessness is incomplete, the entire county recorded a much lower unemployment rate — 3.6 percent — this June, according to the Oregon Employment Department. If a similar trend held for veterans, it would mean a little more than 100 total veterans are seeking work.
Economists define an unemployed person as someone actively looking for work but who is unable to find it. Underemployment, however, is not as easy to quantify, said Patrick Preston, a disabled veterans employment representative for the Employment Department who served in the U.S. Army.
Unemployment statistics do not address the number of veterans who may not be seeking work or those who are employed solely on a seasonal basis. Therefore, even homeless veterans in some cases do not meet the criteria for unemployment.
“It’s a reflection of the general population,” Preston said. “Those who want to work are working.”
The effects of low unemployment among veterans were on display Tuesday in Astoria.
After seeing other organizations take action a few months ago, Lower Columbia Human Resources Management Association board members tossed around ideas for an event to help veterans. The association, comprised of human resources professionals, decided to organize something it had plenty of experience with: a career fair.
From 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, 16 local businesses and labor groups — including Fred Meyer, Lektro, Providence Seaside Hospital, Tongue Point Job Corps Center, WorkSource Oregon and Wauna Federal Credit Union — gathered in the Fort George Brewery’s Lovell Showroom to connect with veterans looking for jobs. The problem: only a handful of veterans attended.
“It was really shocking, actually,” said Stacey Brown, the communications director for the association.
Brown said while factors such as seasonal employment — higher in the summer — and the event’s timing — a weekday afternoon — may have played a role, she discovered Tuesday the situation for veterans seeking work is relatively healthy.
Roughly half of the veterans living in Clatsop County from 2011 to 2015 had served during the Vietnam War era. As those veterans hit retirement age, veterans of the first Gulf War are progressively becoming the largest demographic in the veteran workforce, Preston said. Younger veterans, due to lack of experience and a shorter transition time from war to civilian life than other soldiers, typically have the hardest time finding employment.
U.S. National Guard Capt. Matthew Zedwick earned combat awards such as the Purple Heart and Silver Star from a deployment to Iraq. After a Land Rover SUV exploded, he jumped on top of his squad leader, saving the man’s life and injuring himself in the process.
He met with local businesses at the career fair and pitched some of the employable traits veterans possess: leadership and teamwork abilities, work ethic, punctuality and the ability to operate under pressure.
Throughout his career, Zedwick has also offered tips to fellow soldiers seeking employment. His main piece of advice is to learn skills that set job seekers apart.
“People already have the expectation and stereotype of what a soldier is,” Zedwick said. “What kind of attributes, skills and talents are you bringing to the table?”