'Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe Works Hard for Unemployed Vets

'Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe Works Hard for Unemployed VeteransWhile millions of Americans are searching for work, Mike Rowe has the opposite problem: As the host of the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, he starts a new job every week. Over the show's six seasons, Rowe has taken on hundreds of tough trades ranging from ostrich farmer to steelworker to mosquito breeder. In his spare time, however, Rowe has begun working on one of his toughest challenges yet -- finding good work for America's veterans.

"The unemployment rate for returning servicemen is over 18%," Rowe points out. "It's a scandal, and few people write and talk about it." By comparison, the general unemployment rate is currently 9.6%, or roughly half of the veterans' rate.

Rowe's numbers are disturbing, but recent research suggests that, among some segments of the veteran population, the unemployment crisis may be even more dire. For example, for veterans aged 18 to 24, the jobless rate tops 21%, while 16.6% of nonveteran 18- to 24-year-olds are out of work. And the long downturn has made the problem worse: In 2008, for example, 14.4% of 18- to 24-year-old veterans were unemployed.

Needed: A "Reverse Boot Camp"

Added to the high unemployment rate, Rowe notes that "25% of returning servicemen are currently employed, but earning less than $22,000 a year. Compared to their civilian cohorts, these numbers are insanely, criminally high." This estimate is borne out by a 2008 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which suggests that 43% of returning veterans were living under the poverty line in 2007.

For many returning veterans, a lack of work and a weak support system lead to other problems. Americans for Veterans, an advocacy organization, notes that between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless at some point during each year. Between 375,000 and 600,000 of them receive no government assistance.

Rowe attributes part of the problem to a lack of training for soldiers who are leaving the military. "You've got boot camp and basic training, which is 12 to 16 weeks long. We prepare our people for this whole change of culture," notes Rowe. "But when they come out, there's no reverse boot camp."

This rapid transition from combat to Corporate America can leave soldiers feeling out-of-touch and confused. "I talked to a kid the other day: He did three tours, and within a week of getting back, he's sitting across the desk from an HR executive at Bechtel," Rowe recalls. "Eight days earlier, he was shooting people and getting shot at, and now she was asking him the same kinds of questions that she might ask any interviewee."

Getting Dirty Jobs Involved

Rowe became involved with veterans' affairs through MikeRoweWorks, a website that he founded that's dedicated to advancing the cause of blue-collar trades in America. Soon after the site was launched, Rowe heard from Michael Myatt, a retired Marine Corps major general who heads San Francisco's Veterans Memorial Campaign: "He went to MikeRoweWorks not six weeks after I launched it, called me at home, and said 'I need to talk to you immediately.'" Rowe recalls. "He's a retired two-star general – I was like, 'OK.'"

Through Myatt, Rowe became involved with other groups that work with returning soldiers. Among others, he has begun working with Matthew Caulfield, another retired Marine Corps major general who runs Helmets to Hardhats, a group that helps returning soldiers find construction jobs. "That was what I wanted to do with MikeRoweWorks initially," the host recalls. "I wanted a foundation to fund that organization, and basically help transition returning soldiers into the skilled trades."

Several issues make veterans unattractive for employers. One problem is that some soldiers can be called back into service with little recourse, especially National Guard members and reservists. Employers would then be compelled to keep the jobs open, which would leave them understaffed and forced to train temporary replacements. All other things being equal, many employers prefer to hire workers who aren't likely to face deployment.

Another issue is confusion about combat-related illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the Pentagon, most veterans don't suffer from PTSD. And, among those that do, PTSD research by the National Institutes of Mental Health has shown that, with the help of psychotherapy and medication, most can lead "productive, fulfilling lives."

Perhaps the biggest issue for returning veterans face is confusion about their skills and whether their military abilities have a place in mainstream society. In a recent speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama cited a recent survey showing that 61% of employers didn't know about the skills that returning soldiers had. To drive home the point, she asked listeners: "Are you building roads or schools or shelters? They've done that. Are you establishing health clinics? . . . Are you trying to recruit and manage teams of volunteers? That's all in a day's work for these folks."

Honoring a Sacrifice

Rowe's website now has a large veterans section that offers news, program notes and connections to job resources. He has also become involved with San Francisco's Fleet Week program and is working with Maj. Gen. Myatt on the Veterans Memorial Campaign.

Asked why he's so serious about helping veterans, the San Francisco-based Rowe notes how the military has helped his city: "After the 1906 earthquake, the military restored order. In 1987, they were here first. And when it happens again, they'll be the first ones on the job. First responders take four days after an earthquake, but the military is there in four hours."

Ultimately, Rowe notes, America owes its veterans: "These people made a sacrifice for their country, and we need to honor it. If those messages can come out with a MikeRoweWorks stamp next to them, I'd be really proud."

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SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE. What we really need is a huge infusion of ethics in our society. I could not agree more with the article: we ALL owe ALL Veterans for their service, whether at home or abroad, whether "sung" or "unsung." I am a Veteran, so I know what it feels like from the "inside" to have trouble finding work. I have heard it from the Labor Department: "return rights" laws are on the books but not enforced. I have heard it from Worksource, the enforcement arm of the State Employment Security Department: don't tell them (prospective employers) about your military experience, because right now it will work against you. What are we going to tell our children, when they ask about military service? That it is a one-way street? I so hope this is not the answer, but bitter experience is proving otherwise. The whole fabric of our culture is ragged around the edges right now. If we do not start doing the right thing by our people, I shudder to think what our future will be.

November 15 2010 at 12:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qIgVrOy9vM&feature=related Watch this clip. Nothing has changed for our Veterans. Still today they struggle to find work to "fit" back into society. Here's a quote from the 1982 film Rambo Rambo: "Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment, back here I can't even hold a job *parking cars*!"

November 13 2010 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Stephen: Don't knock Mike Rowe. I know people who've met him and they agree he is for real. How about knocking some pathetic Hollywood "stars" who REALLY make ridiculous and unwarranted salaries and do nothing for society? Mike has a great personality, loads of talent AND his interest in vets and their causes is for real. He does NOT need a "stepping stone" for his career..

November 13 2010 at 12:12 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Mike Rowe is probably making seven figures a year with a non union show where everything is staged, plus Ford commericals, Voice Over work etc. Also this so-called program for Vets is nothing more than a big tax write-off for him. He doesn't care if skilled veterans make twelve dollars an hour, Mike, why don't you put you put your money where your mouth is; kick in without a write-off and don't use our Vets who serve with honor and courage as a stepping stone for your career.

November 12 2010 at 1:55 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

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November 12 2010 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

it would be nice if the war veterans had their own town. built specifically for people who have fought in the war...like a base. it should have everything a regular town should have. only the veterans would have a guaranteed place to live rent free and tax free. this way they can maintain life after being injured or traumatized. it would be like your hometown USA with beatiful landscaping and amenities. everyone would have access to transportation no matter what. meaning free buses, free cab rides...only pay for your own gas. this is out of respect no replies or rebuttals needed . thanx

November 12 2010 at 11:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to raan's comment

p.s. this can be funded by major corporations that make more money than the USA budget deficit...annually!!!

November 12 2010 at 11:07 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The myth of supply side prosperity has been busted. Capital accrued to the top of the economic food chain is not reinvested in economy building enterprises but used to speculate in the markets and drive economic bubbles that inevitalby burst and further downsize the middle class with every go around.

November 12 2010 at 10:32 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Bravo to mickylitz, well said.

November 12 2010 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm tired of being told that I have to pay more taxes to "keep people in their homes." Sure, if they lost their jobs or got sick, I'm willing to help. But if they bought McMansions at three times the price of our paid-off, $250,000 condo, on one-third of my salary, then let the left-wing Congress-critters who passed Fannie and Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act that created the bubble help them with their own money. I'm tired of being told how bad America is by left-wing millionaires like Michael Moore, George Soros and Hollywood Entertainers who live in luxury because of the opportunities America offers. In thirty years, if they get their way, the United States will have the economy of Zimbabwe , the freedom of the press of China the crime and violence of Mexico , the tolerance for Christian people of Iran , and the freedom of speech of Venezuela .

November 12 2010 at 7:48 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Mickylitz's comment

I understand your frustration but you have been misled as to the cause of the problem and as to who benefits if the status quo is maintained. You need to turn off FOX and start reading. I suggest 'Aftershock' by Robert Reich and 'Free Lunch' by David Cay Johnston.

November 12 2010 at 10:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

otterdad...your boy reich is socialist midget ..and you are obviously a mental one.hope you enjoyed the recent massacre.trust me we will finish the job in 2012 and send your inept kenyan apologist packing.knuckleheads like him and the old antisemite coward jimmy carter do serve a purpose though...they bring about truly great men like RONALD REAGAN!! cheers!

November 12 2010 at 10:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The host is from the Discovery Channel, not from TLC. Get your facts straight.

November 12 2010 at 7:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Emily's comment

TLC owns Discovery channel and many more.

November 12 2010 at 8:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply