On Veterans Day last year, we told the stories of four former service members who transitioned to the professional world and hold jobs at our company. They successfully made the leap from military to civilian careers, a move that proves challenging for many vets and the education and workforce development professionals who assist them.
This is an especially acute issue in areas of the U.S. with a strong concentration of veterans.
In 2015 the U.S. was home to about 20 million veterans, per the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and the heaviest density of these former service members lived in the South, Southwest, and Mid-Atlantic. Many of the densest pockets of veterans are close to or in the same counties as major military bases like Fort Hood and Fort Bragg.
For this analysis, we put every county into two buckets—large counties (at least 100,000 people in 2015) and small counties (under 100,000 people)*—and compared the 2015 veteran population to the 2015 total population from Emsi to come up with the share of veterans in each county.
*This is admittedly crude considering some counties barely made or missed the 100K-population cutoff.
Seven of the top 20 large counties with the highest share of veterans are in Florida, led by Sumter County (west of Orlando) and Okaloosa County (east of Pensacola and home to Eglin Air Force Base). In both, vets make up 16% of the population.
Cochise County, Arizona, is third, with a veteran share of 14.6%. It has several Army and Air Force installations, including Fort Huachuca. Close behind are Citrus County, Florida (14.2%) and Hampton city, Virginia (14%).
The most-populated counties to make the top 10 for veterans are Virginia Beach city, Virginia (total population is over 450,000, with 13.3% being veterans) and Bell County, Texas (around 335,000 people, 13.8% of whom are vets). Bell County is home to Fort Hood.
Among the 100 most populous counties in the U.S., only two have a veteran share above 10%: Pierce County, Washington (10.5%) and El Paso County, Colorado (12.6%). Pierce County is where Tacoma, McChord Air Force Base, and Fort Lewis are located. El Paso County is home to Colorado Springs and a large Air Force presence, including the Air Force Academy.
Los Angeles County and Maricopa County (Phoenix) have the largest number of veterans. While vets make up just 3% of the population in LA County, Maricopa County’s share of vets is 6.4%—similar to San Diego County (7.1%), which has the third-most former military members of any county. Bexar County (San Antonio) ranks sixth for veterans and 8.1% of its population are former military members.
Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia have the most counties with high-density veteran populations.
Tiny Elmore County, Idaho (pop. 25,875), where the Mountain Home Air Force Base is located, has the highest share of veterans in its population of any county in the U.S., at 18%. Even smaller are the rest of the top five among counties with fewer than 100,000 people:
- Sierra County, New Mexico (11,282; 16.4% veterans)
- Custer County, Colorado (4,445; 16.3%)
- Keweenaw County, Michigan (2,168; 16.1%)
- Mineral County, Nevada (4,478; 16.1%)
For small counties, Nevada, Idaho, and Michigan are prominent states with large shares of veterans. The Census Bureau estimates that a quarter of veterans live in rural regions. Vets in rural areas have lower employment rates than vets in urban areas, and the percentage of vets holding jobs is even lower in extremely rural counties.
About the Data
This data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, specifically the five-year version of the ACS (2011-2015), and Emsi. In the interactive map, the margin of error for the 2015 veteran population is included for every county.