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Breaking A Vicious Cycle: Affordable Homes and Veteran Unemployment

There's little doubt that VA benefits have great value. But in the case of a VA home loans you can't get financing without sufficient income regardless of your military training or experience. For the bulk of military borrowers, that means steady employment that's likely to continue.

The jobs issue has become enormously important because young vets -- those aged 20 to 24 -- have a 30-percent unemployment rate. This compares with a 12 percent unemployment rate for vets in general versus about 9 percent for the population at large.

Alas, no income, no mortgage.

Low Rates, Tough Times

The problem is not especially a VA dilemma or a military issue. Instead, the high level of veteran unemployment is the byproduct of an economy that's not now producing the jobs it once generated. The result is that competition is stronger, openings have been reduced and incomes have declined.

Figures from the Census Bureau show that in 2000 the typical household income was $52,301. This baseline income number fell to $49,777 by 2009.

Not only is income falling, costs in the civilian world have generally gone up -- think of food, insurance, medical expenses and car prices.

A curious exception concerns homeownership.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the typical existing home sold for $131,148 in 2000. That same year the average mortgage rate was 8.05 percent. With 100 percent financing, a fixed-rate loan over 30 years would cost $967 per month for principal and interest.

In October 2011, according to NAR, the typical existing home cost $161,600. That's higher -- at least in cash terms -- than the cost of a home in the year 2000. The catch is that interest rates have pretty much been cut in half. Freddie Mac says the typical loan in October was priced at 4.07 percent. With 100 percent financing, a fixed-rate loan over 30 years would cost $778 per month for principal and interest.

In effect, we have a very frustrating situation.

Homes today are enormously affordable in many areas but VA mortgages are unavailable for deserving vets because they disproportionately lack jobs once they leave the service.

Neither the VA nor the Defense Department can resolve the difficult economy we all face, but vets can do something to help their own cause.

Spread the Word

Vets have experiences and bonds that are simply not shared in the civilian world. Moreover, there are a lot of vets out there -- more than one million military and civilian professionals were stationed one or more times in Iraq.

And so a thought: A lot of job openings are off the radar. Often you can see where openings will become available in your workplace before they're actually announced -- if they're announced at all. And in social settings you may hear of an opening or business expansion that would really benefit from the experience, training and leadership vets can bring to the workplace.

Don't keep it a secret. If you hear of a job opening ask the manager or business owner if it would be OK to get in touch with local vets, to see if a qualified individual with military service would have an interest in the position. Be sure to tell employers that programs exist to help vets get jobs and advanced training.

The betting here is that we could substantially address the issue of vet unemployment by being alert to the opportunities which arise at work and in social settings. Especially with small and local businesses, the best time to get a job is before it's announced and resumes start to pile up.