WASHINGTON — The number of young veterans receiving unemployment checks increased again in 2005 even as the overall number of veterans without jobs decreased, according to new statistics from the Department of Labor.

Officials reported a 15.6 percent unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-old veterans, up 2 percentage points from 2004. It’s also 4.6 percentage points above 2003 figures and four times the 3.9 percent unemployment rate of veterans of all ages last year.

Charles Ciccolella, assistant secretary of labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training, said some of that difference is understandable.

Younger veterans often take time off after leaving the armed forces to decide whether to enter the job market or head off to college, he said. And while they lag behind their peers in employment, those former troops have comparable employment statistics to civilian first-time job seekers.

Still, Ciccolella said, that doesn’t excuse the increase.

“There is an upward trend, and that is very concerning,” he said. “Any young veteran who is having a tough time finding a good job is our concern.”

The department estimates that 15.6 percent unemployment rate translates into somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 young veterans.

The Defense Department already offers transition assistance to troops before they leave the service, and Ciccolella said labor officials are expanding information on resume building and job interviews for younger veterans on their employment assistance site,

They’re also considering a new initiative to give veterans advance notice of jobs with federal contractors, providing information on openings and contacts to veterans employment centers a day before the news is publicly posted.

Ciccolella said details of that plan still need to be finalized.

The unemployment rate for all veterans last year was 0.6 percentage points below the overall U.S. unemployment rate of 4.0 percent.

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