Before Thanksgiving I received a request from a local veteran in pursuit of some demographic data on our region’s veteran population.
I didn’t know the information myself admittedly, but found it particularly interesting, especially in light of new research from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) comparing the various veterans’ benefits offered state by state (future blog post – feel free to read the report and get ahead).
I am including all of the demographic data (all from the 2018 American Community Survey) I pulled at the bottom of this article (for all my fellow data nerds), but in the hope of keeping your eyes from glazing over or hitting “back” on your phone browser, here are some of the key insights from the data.
NC and the Hickory Region Outpace the Nation
Big shocker I know – but with the collection of Fort Bragg (largest military base by population in US), Camp Lejeune (largest cluster of Marines and Sailors in the world) and other NC installations – NC is in the top 5 states for largest military populations (there is debate if it is #3 or #4). As the national veteran population has trended down in recent years (18.5 million in 2016; 18.2 in 2017; 17.96 in 2018), NC’s veteran population has remained relatively stable and even grown in recent years.
The latest American Community Survey (ACS) data for 2018 shows roughly 8.3% of North Carolina’s population and 7.8% of our Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton MSA population is a military veteran – outpacing the national proportion of 7.1%. So, we should be proud that so many veterans call our state "home" temporarily and many choose to remain even after their military service.
Veterans are Typically Older, Our Region Skews Even Older Than Typical
North Carolina’s veterans are much older, on average, then the non-veteran adult population. Forty-five percent (45%) of NC veterans are 65 or older compared to less than 20% of non-veteran adults. Just 10% of the state’s veterans are between the ages of 18 and 34, one-third the share of non-veterans (30%) in this age group.
Here in the Hickory MSA, we skew even older – with more than 56% of our veterans aged 65 or older. This becomes more clear when you further dive into the eras of service, nearly 12% of our region’s veteran population served in either the Korean War or World War II. By far, our largest proportion (51%) served during the Vietnam War – nearly 15% higher than the North Carolina (33.7%) or US (35.5% percentages).
As we lookout on what that means in our community – there are several initial takeaways:
After their military service, veterans returned to their communities to continue that service. No data to necessarily support that claim – but come on, leadership, teamwork and communication are drilled into these folks from the word “go”. Our area stands to slowly be losing more of those immediate volunteers, those leaders, etc. that have driven so many local efforts forward. There will be the need for a next wave of leadership to sustain or grow new efforts (*cough cough - one of the reasons we are slowly working on establishing a military veterans networking group in the region).
Older populations need a higher level of medical service. The data already bears this out, 28% of our area veteran population is disabled (remember: disability could imply anything from difficulty hearing to a double amputee), nearly 10% more than the general, non-veteran population in the Hickory region. We are blessed with a multitude of health services in this region, a VA clinic in Hickory and 2 VA hospitals within approximately 1 hr 15 minutes (one of which is among the best in the entire VA system)– these are vital services to this population. But having an older veteran population means specific needs and wants.
More Educated, in the Workforce and Making an Impact
We are big believers in the power and impact of military and military spouse talent. It is a driving force to many of our efforts and we are putting significant horsepower as we try to connect leading local employment partners with this deep and diverse talent pool. We also believe that hiring a veteran or a military spouse is more "than just the right thing to do" and that hiring veterans and spouses drives business results.
The data once again bears this out – of those in prime working years (18-64), 80% of the veteran population is in the labor force, either working in a job or actively looking for employment. This is significantly higher than our region’s non-veteran participation rate (75.7%). This might be even larger – I have seen other datasets for our region that show more than a 10% difference in labor participation between veteran and civilians.
At the same time, veterans have a higher base level of education than our region’s general population: nearly 90% of veterans have a high school diploma, 6% higher than the Hickory MSA’s general population. Interestingly, both veterans and civilians in the Hickory area have the same likelihood of having a Bachelor’s degree or higher (20%) – though it is important to remember that individuals typically enter the Armed Forces during the years you would typically think of as the “College Years” (18 to 24), so their education pursuits may be delayed or be in addition to being a full-time Soldier, Sailor, etc.
All of this leads to our area veterans being less likely to be in poverty (6.0%) compared to 12.9% for the general population – though even having one person in person or family living in poverty is nothing to exactly boast about and surely will be an ongoing issue for both veterans and the general population.
From Here – Be On the Lookout for a Future Blog
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I found these demographics to be particularly interesting in light of a groundbreaking report that delves into the state-level benefits available to veterans and their families after they leave the military service.
I won’t completely get into that now, but one of the core components of HKY4Vets – basically from Day 1 is Advocacy. Advocacy in the sense that our organization wants to build a community that is inclusive and “ready” to assist this under-resourced population. Our efforts to build that community will largely be focused on here, our home – but that community extends to North Carolina and even our country - to have policies, benefits or even initiatives like ours to serve those that have already have served and will continue to serve on our behalf.
A quick teaser – NC does not come out on top of the pack in the report – really middle of the road when comparing all 50 states (and Washington DC). This is not to say we do not love our veterans, our military families, etc. – I think we as Americans all do. But it does show there is room for improvement to benefit these military veterans and families, but as laid out here today, our communities ultimately benefit as well.