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An employment gift from oldest veterans to newest ones

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The share of veterans in the American workforce has dwindled to its lowest level in decades. In 1993, more than 1 in 4 people in the labor pool was a veteran. Last year, that level fell to 1 in 10.

Despite two ongoing wars, which is creating a surge of veterans into the labor force, it is swamped by a much larger wave of retirements of veterans from Vietnam and earlier wars. That's creating an job opportunity for America's newest veterans, despite the difficult economy.

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Unemployment among veterans of the current Iraq and Afghanistan eras reached a new high of 11.6 percent last month, not seasonally adjusted. While high, that's not out of line with nonveterans in the same age bracket, says James Walker, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As demand rises for their services among US companies interested in hiring veterans, the retirement of veterans from earlier wars is opening up new possibilities.

"It's actually becoming easier for veterans ... to find jobs," says Dan Fazio, managing editor of G.I. Jobs Magazine, a monthly based in Sewickley, Pa. "There are more jobs available, especially as the baby boomers retire. But also there are more companies that recognize the benefits of hiring veterans."

The magazine published this week its list of 100 top employers for veterans. (Click here for the list.)

Last year, 21 percent of the new hires at No. 3 ranked USAA were people with prior military experience (or military spouses), says Paul Berry, spokesman for the San Antonio-based insurance and financial-services company, which serves active and retired members of the military. That pushed USAA closer to its goal of having veterans fill 2 of every 5 positions at the company.

"We have a strong candidate pool of veterans to choose from," Mr. Berry says.