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Veterans By the Numbers

November 20, 2017

Most Americans will never serve in the military or step foot on a battlefield, but many feel an obligation to support those who have.

Today is Veterans Day, a holiday created to honor all those who have served in an American war. It began as Armistice Day, on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in World War I—the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Almost 100 years later, the U.S. still counts a large population of veterans, a great many of whom are struggling to find a job, housing or health care. Thanking veterans for their service can go a long way, but many feel we owe them and their families more. Let’s start by identifying who our veterans are and where they live.

There are 18.8 million veterans living in the U.S. today, 7.6 percent of the population. They are predominantly male (91.6 percent), though the number of female veterans is on the rise.

Veterans tend to be older than nonveterans. This reflects the characteristics of veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era, all of whom are now over 55 years old. Veterans who served during these war periods accounted for more than 45 percent of the total veteran population in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

But veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan increase every year. In 2015, roughly one-quarter served during Gulf War era I (August 1990-August 2001) or Gulf War era II (September 2001 to present).

Minorities made up 23.6 percent of the population in 2015. Like women, this group will increase greatly in the years to come.

Veterans are generally better educated than nonveterans: 37.1 percent completed some college or an associate’s degree; 27.7 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Veterans are also more likely to be married (59.8 percent vs. 47.8 percent).

Not surprisingly, veterans live in every state and community in the U.S. Three states—California, Florida and Texas—have more than 1 million veterans. Another 10 states have more than 500,000—Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

Veterans make up 10 percent or more of the total adult population in six states—Alaska (12.5 percent), Virginia (10.8 percent), Montana (10.6 percent), Wyoming (10.2 percent), Maine (10 percent) and Hawaii (10 percent). (The American Community Survey did not collect data for Guam, but other sources report a sizable veteran population, as high as 20 percent.)

With more veterans returning home, state legislatures can play an important role in ensuring they and their families receive the resources and information needed to make a smooth transition to civilian life. Consider attending the next meeting of NCSL’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs to learn more. The task force will meet on Dec. 13 in Coronado, Calif., in conjunction with the NCSL Capitol Forum. Sessions will cover education, workforce development, suicide prevention, readiness and more. All are welcome.

Jennifer Schultz is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's Environment, Energy and Transportation program. She staffs the NCSL Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs. 

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