The American Dream is essentially the national spirit of our country. It is a set of ideals surrounding the concept of freedom. These ideals include the opportunity for prosperity and success, and upward social growth of families. The dream is a promise to all Americans. In a society where good business practices break down barriers to employment and give back to the brave military men and women who fiercely serve to protect its freedom, hard work pays off.
This promise is made good when there is a prescription for good legislation. Undoubtedly, tax credits have been a successful component of that prescription; and right now, most notable, is the Worker Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). Why? Because it guarantees that the American worker, employer and veteran alike get a fair shake in today’s marketplace.
WOTC is the modernized, “A-class” version of tax credits. It upholds our country’s principles of equal opportunity. It prevents wasted lives and added weight on public funding. The WOTC ensures that hiring incentives function the way they should in the private sector. Individuals with limitations such as a disability or limited skills “can be regular employees at regular wages and hold the same opportunity as others to grow and advance,” says WOTC Coalition President Paul Suplizio. At the same time, it reduces the income tax liability to participating employers and helps keep our economy healthy.
Sadly, our disabled veterans—especially those recently returning—suffer the highest unemployment rates. Since two out of three veterans seek jobs in the private sector, they need WOTC more than ever; and we know it can deliver. In 2011 alone, the Department of Labor data shows that WOTC helped result in nearly 1.2 million jobs and got 42, 235 veterans back to work, of which 3,117 were disabled. With additional help from the VOW Act (Vow to Hire Heroes Act) that same year, Congress increased the maximum credit for hiring an unemployed veteran who has been out of work at least six months from $2,400-$5,600. Further, hiring a disabled veteran elevated from $4,800 to $9,600.
Net-net: getting our veterans back to work means advocating WOTC to a wider range of employers. WOTC promotion to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and private, non-profit companies is especially important. To do this, we need to make WOTC, including the VOW Act credits, a permanent part of our tax code. With support of the Veterans Affairs Committee of both Houses of Congress, SME’s would be more open to WOTC participation.
As it stands, when Congress allows its hiatus, WOTC availability seems uncertain. If a program is short-term, most SME’s cannot change their hiring practices to reach out to our veterans. However, with permanency, WOTC promotion to SMEs would be easy and a world of well-paying jobs in life sciences, healthcare, education, communications and business services would be accessible to them.
In the meantime, we owe it to our heroes to continue championing WOTC to private sector employers and thus proving to Congress, its long-term value.
We do this by:
- Dispelling the myths that keep smaller businesses from claiming tax credits
- Educating on veteran employee success
- Reframing our job fit ideals
So what are the tall tales scaring small businesses from using WOTC?
First, they don’t think it’s for companies in their industry. The good news is that WOTC is not only available for SMEs, it’s encouraged! But you do need to show up and apply to get it – the IRS isn’t simply handing out credits.
Second, SMEs don’t think a tax credit will help their bottom line. Well, thanks to programs like WOTC, much black ink and green dollars have been realized for companies. Third, there is the notion that tax credits are all too good to be true. Well, tax credits have been widely recognized and used as part of our Internal Revenue Code since 1996. But again, SMEs need to properly document activities and correctly apply the law; credits aren’t just given away.
Finally, and most notable, there is the myth that the tax credit is going to go away. To this we implore SMEs to “use it or lose it.” The way to show Congress its value and its permanent place in our system is to demonstrate that WOTC works and it’s beneficial.
How else can WOTC “pulse check” the American Dream and ensure targeted groups like veterans can realize equal opportunity and success? Education. We must educate our managers about the value of veteran employees and remind them to select their recruitment activities strategically to show our military that they matter.
It is important to recognize that these individuals make a positive contribution in every civilian profession. The 100,000 Jobs Mission of 2011, a coalition founded to promote veteran employment, has cited several benefits from employing veterans. Veterans are:
- Flexible and able to work in a stressful, fast-paced, dynamic environment
- Experience working independently, as well as in teams.
- Loyal with integrity that is second to none.
- Dependable, demonstrate a strong work ethic and have the resolve to consistently get work done.
- Culturally diverse and experienced in global working environments with battle-tested, real-world experience.
- Outstanding leaders who already have extensive background checks for various levels of security clearance. This being said, training and background screening costs are dramatically reduced.
Most importantly, hiring our veterans is simply the right thing to do. With WOTC participation, companies are helped to cover outreach costs so that they may hire and thank them for their service.
Re-framing our notion of job fit is a crucial component to letting WOTC work for our veterans. After such intense involvement in a mission, veterans need a strong sense of purpose when they return home. It helps them keep going as usual without the startling sense of withdrawal. Despite the clear-and-present need for an income stream, many of them are searching for meaningful work. Rather than dismiss qualified veterans because they might not perfectly align with the rigid language of a job description, we need to remember all the strengths that they bring to the table. Determining how their skills and experience can add value to our job openings is vital.
As Americans, we struggle with the concept of hiring people who don’t meet our immediate needs because we are a society of “instant gratification.” But, if we favor the notion of long-term benefits when we consider training and development, we realize that there are hundreds of roles a veteran could potentially fill in any organization. The WOTC program is just the ticket to help them get there.