Former Fed Chair Bernanke: Military Veterans Don’t Have Advantage In Job Market

Ben Bernanke Veterans

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stirred controversy Monday when he dismissed the long-held conventional wisdom – and ever present marketing campaigns – that says military experience is a plus in the job market.

Speaking at an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Bernanke pointed to “the evidence” painting a much different picture.

“If you go into the military at age 18 – versus an identical person who stays in the private sector and takes a private sector job – 10 years later, if you leave the military, your skills and wages are probably not going to be quite as high on average as a private sector person,” Bernanke said. “The military,” he added, “is not really adding much to the private sector through training or any other experience.”

He also said that the military likely wouldn’t be affected very much by a minimum wage increase in the private sector. But Michael O’Hanlon, co-director of Brookings’ Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, disagreed, pointing to upward trends in the minimum wage and the broader economy as potential stumbling blocks for military recruiting.

Unsurprisingly, there has been some pushback against Bernanke’s comments on military experience’s value to the private sector. Foreign Policy quoted Fred Wellman, a veteran and veteran advocate who leads ScoutComms, as saying the remarks as “just another example of the civil-military divide.”

But Army veteran Phil Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told FP that the situation is more complex. Younger veterans need more time to adjust to the marketplace before they can see the same success their older counterparts, but “Bernanke’s speaking a very uncomfortable truth that goes to the core of the all-volunteer force.”

The former Fed chairman, who oversaw U.S. monetary policy from 2006 until last year, made his academic mark as an economic historian of the Great Depression. As a member of the Fed, he was particular hawkish on fighting deflation.

Bernanke also warned against using short-term political goals of deficit-cutting to slash the defense budget, saying “There’s no reason to be taking draconian steps right now that will have long-run, costly implications for our defense posture just for deficit reasons.”

[photo: Ford School of Public Policy]