By on 11.8.18 in Economic Data

Just over 656,000 veterans lived in North Carolina in 2017 according to the most recent American Community Survey estimates. This is a decrease of 10,000 veterans from 2016, a decline of 1.5 percent. Nationally, the veteran population decreased at a similar rate, declining from 18.5 million in 2016 to 18.2 million in 2017, a loss of 292,000 on veterans.

While the veteran population has been steadily declining, the total adult population continues to grow. As a result, veterans comprise a smaller share of the civilian adult population. In North Carolina, veterans now make up 8.3% of the adult population, down from 8.6% in 2016. Nationally, veterans are an even smaller share of the adult population: 7.3% in 2017 versus 7.4% in 2016.


North Carolina’s veterans are much older, on average, then the non-veteran adult population. Forty-five percent (46%) of NC veterans are 65 or older compared to just 18% of non-veteran adults. Just 10% of the state’s veterans are between the ages of 18 and 34, one-third the share of non-veterans (30%) in this age group.

Reflecting this older age structure, North Carolina veterans are more likely to have a disability than non-veterans. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of the state’s veterans reported a disability in 2017 compared to 15% of the state’s non-veterans.


Though North Carolina’s veterans are predominantly male, the female population of veterans is growing. In 2017, more than one in every ten veterans in the state (10.6%) was female, higher than the national average of 8.9%. The population of female veterans increased by over 1,000 individuals in the past year, rising from nearly 68,000 in 2016 to 69,300 in 2017.

Race & Ethnicity

The veteran population is somewhat less diverse than the state’s overall adult population, reflecting the relatively older age structure. Among North Carolina’s veterans in 2017:

  • 72% are white vs. 66% of non-veteran adults;
  • 21% are black vs. 21% of non-veterans;
  • 3.7% are Hispanic vs. 7.7% of non-veterans;
  • 1.0% are American Indian vs. 1.2% of non-veterans;
  • 0.6% are Asian vs. 3.0% of non-veterans; and
  • 1.2% are some other race or multiracial vs. 1.4% of non-veterans.

Period of Military Service

In North Carolina, like the nation, the largest share of veterans served during the Vietnam era: 35% in North Carolina and 36% nationwide. Compared to the national average, North Carolina’s veterans were more likely to report Gulf War era service (45% vs. 40% nationally) and less likely to have served during the Korean War or World War II (9% vs. 11%). A similar share of veterans reported serving during no specific military conflict (23%).

Labor Force, Income, and Poverty

Compared to their non-veteran peers, North Carolina veterans of prime working age (18-64) are less likely to be in the labor force: 73.8% of NC veterans were in the labor force compared to 75.3% of non-veterans.

This is largely driven by older veterans and the relatively older age structure of veterans overall. Among younger age groups, NC veterans were more likely to be in the labor force in 2017:

  • 80.4% of NC veterans aged 18-34 were in the labor force vs. 76.0% of non-veterans;
  • 83.1% of NC veterans aged 35-54 were in the labor force vs. 80.8% of non-veterans; and
  • 58.0% of NC veterans aged 55-64 were in the labor force vs. 62.4% of non-veterans.

Among those in the labor force, North Carolina’s veterans were less likely to be unemployed: 3.8% of veterans aged 18-64 were unemployed in 2017 compared to 5.2% of non-veterans. The difference was most pronounced among the youngest veterans, with 5.0% of veterans aged 18-34 reporting unemployment compared to 8.1% of non-veterans.

North Carolina’s veterans also had much higher median incomes than the non-veteran population. Among the population receiving income, the median veteran income in 2017 was $38,682, more than $11,600 or 43% higher than the median non-veteran income of $27,064.

Reflecting these higher incomes, North Carolina’s veterans were much less likely to be in poverty than non-veterans. Just 7.4% of the state’s veteran population had incomes below the poverty line in 2017, nearly half the rate of the state’s non-veteran adult population (13.4%).

Educational Attainment

Though non-veterans are more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher (32% vs. 28% of veterans), North Carolina’s veterans are much more likely to have attended some college or received an associate degree (40% vs. 30%). In total, 68% of North Carolina veterans have some college or a postsecondary degree compared to 62% of non-veterans.

Veterans are also much more likely than non-veterans to have completed high school: just 6% of NC veterans reported having less than a high school diploma in 2017 versus 13% of non-veterans.


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