Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vietnam conscripts half as likely to be holding down jobs

It might be because of the way they are compensated

ROD HOMEWOOD found it difficult to hold down a job when he came back from Vietnam. Over three decades the former conscript reckons he held 16 jobs.

“And then I lost it, I fell off my tree. Everything snowballed, they pulled me out of the work at age 54 and I haven’t had a job since.”

A new study - the first of its kind in Australia - finds Rod’s experience typical. Conscripts who went to Vietnam were about as likely as anyone else to be in work until the 1990s, when their likelihood of employment began to dive.

Using census data on employment status by birth date Wollongong University economist Peter Siminski finds men born on the dates that were represented by the marbles drawn out of the barrel to select conscripts far less likely to be employed all these years on than men born on other dates in the same years.

When he narrows the birth dates down to the battalions that went to Vietnam rather than served at home he finds the effect is worth 37 percentage points.

“To give you an idea of what that means, typically 72 per cent of the men born in those years were still working at the time of the census. This effect is more than half as big. The conscripts who went to Vietnam are half as likely to be still working as their peers born at around the same times.”

Dr Siminski’s study will be published the Review of Economics and Statistics early next year.

Using separate Tax Office data he finds the effect on employment is relatively recent, building since the mid 1990s...

He says the results are consistent with age exacerbating war-related conditions. But in the United States the effect is less obvious. Although he can’t be certain he says Australia’s effect could be driven by the design of our veterans' disability pension.

Unlike the US pension it ties the rate of payment to an assessment of employability. Veterans assessed as being totally and permanently incapacited get a much bigger payment than veterans assessed as being able to do more work.

“I am not saying the system is too generous,” Dr Siminski told the Herald. “The problem is it is tied to employability.”

“I actually have a lot of sympathy for these guys and everything they have gone through. It’s not the level, it’s the design. A simple solution would be to give everyone the top rate, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

Rod Homewood keeps himself busy volunteering at the Oakleigh State Emergency Service.

He agrees that it is worthwhile being assessed as totally and permanently incapacitated, but he says it isn’t easy. “They try not to give it to. you. It took many years until they connected my condition with service. I could show you a room of fifty veterans. Their stories might be different but the pattern is the same. They work for twenty or so years and then everything goes wrong.”

Dr Siminski has other uses in mind for the date of birth data. He wants to examine the life span of men who were Vietnam conscripts, their income, mental health and marriage status.

Published in today's SMH and Age

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