WASHINGTON -- With about 1 million members of the military expected to become civilians over the next five years, first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are calling on the private sector to step up its hiring of veterans.
The two said they're encouraged by recent progress in reducing the unemployment rate among the latest generation of veterans. The jobless rate for those veterans who served after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks fell from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 9.9 percent last year. But they said more is needed, and they're asking business leaders to help hire veterans.
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"They are eager to work and determined to keep on serving their country," the two said in an op-ed in Fortune. "All they need is a chance."
The two are being joined by their husbands, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, at a White House event Tuesday focusing on veterans and jobs.
Overall, the unemployment rate for veterans is actually lower than that for nonveterans. However, the nation's youngest veterans are the exception to that long-standing trend, with nearly one out of five under the age of 25 looking for a job. The unemployment rate was also in double-digits for those 25-34.
The federal government and the private sector have joined in several initiatives to place greater emphasis on hiring veterans. In one such campaign, called Joining Forces, participants announced a goal of hiring 100,000 veterans or military spouses by the end of this year. Obama and Biden said businesses have more than met that goal, filling 125,000 jobs and committing to hiring 250,000 more.
They noted that Obama has proposed a permanent extension of a tax break that Congress approved in late 2011. Employers get up to a $5,600 tax credit for hiring a veteran out of work for more than six months, or up to $9,600 for hiring a disabled veteran out of work for the same amount of time. They also said they had also been working with governors and state legislators to make it easier for veterans to apply their military experience when trying to get a professional license or credential at home. But, in the end, it's up to private companies to do the hiring.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck issue and we cannot rest until every single veteran and military spouse who is searching for a job has found one," the two wrote.
The emphasis on jobs for veterans gives the White House a chance to focus on an issue where there's been progress. Meanwhile, lawmakers and veterans groups are focusing more attention on resolving a disability claims backlog for veterans that has gotten worse in recent years. Lawmakers from both parties have recently called on the president to get more involved and to set a clear plan for resolving claims more quickly, but they offered no specific recommendations on what changes are needed.