As COVID-19 spread across the country in 2020, it also spread record unemployment with April 2020 setting a record high of 14.7%, the highest figure recorded since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting data in 1948. While unemployment and economic struggles were a theme of 2020, the defense industry was largely spared from the biggest impacts, thanks to legislation which ensured government contractors could continue to get paid and supportive measures implemented by agencies including the Department of Defense and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to ensure work could be accomplished and employees were supported.

2020 DownTurn Had a Rippling Effect on Unemployment

Despite those efforts, the ripples of the 2020 economic downturn did hit some cleared workers, and that was evidenced in the 49% increase in the number of unemployed respondents between the 2021 and 2020 ClearanceJobs compensation surveys. While the 2021 ClearanceJobs Compensation Report revealed a 2% pay bump despite the pandemic, it also showed an increase in unemployment. While many respondents who reported unemployment were related to retirement, survey respondents also cited contract endings, layoffs, and voluntary unemployment. 12% of unemployed respondents said their unemployment was directly COVID-19 related.

Some Demographics Hit Harder in Defense Industry

While in many ways the number of unemployed workers correlate to the overall responses from the 2021 Security Clearance Compensation Report, there are a few areas where workers are more likely to note unemployment. Generation X was the age demographic hardest-hit by unemployment, with Boomers a slight second. Millennials and Gen Z fared better in unemployment figures.

While education is a boon to compensation, it isn’t exactly a buffer to unemployment. Those with a bachelor’s degree were actually more likely to report unemployment than those with simply a high school diploma.

Unemployed = Ready to Work

There was a time when being an unemployed candidate came with a stigma. But in light of 2020, employers are more open to hiring candidates with unemployment in their job history – and they should be. The 2021 ClearanceJobs Compensation Report showed that cleared and unemployed candidates are still qualified, experienced, and ready to take on a new career challenge.

Unemployed doesn’t mean unqualified, inexperienced, or incapable – it means ready to start today. For more about cleared and unemployed workers, read our full report.


      Access the full Cleared & Unemployed report

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Evan H. Lesser is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Before founding ClearanceJobs, Mr. Lesser managed technical projects with CACI for the U.S. Navy's Science and Technology directorate at the Pentagon, and for the Joint Technology Panel on Electronic Warfare. Previously, he worked for Boeing on its Reserve Component Automation System program for the U.S. Army in metro Washington, DC. Mr. Lesser has a degree in Philosophy from the University of Georgia in Athens, and lives and works in the Atlanta metropolitan area.