Nestled in last week's jobs report showing that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent in January (and fell from 15.8 to 13.6 percent for African Americans), there was also hopeful news for veterans.
As Think Progress reports, in the past year the unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars fell 6 percentage points, from 15.2 percent in January 2011 to 9.1 percent last month. There was also a sharp drop for the entire U.S. veteran population, from 9.9 percent a year ago to 7.5 percent now — lower than the national average.
It's big news for veterans, whose unemployment rates have perennially hovered above the national average. The numbers for black veterans have been especially dismal, with a Department of Labor report (pdf) released last November showing that African Americans are disproportionately represented among unemployed vets (accounting for 17.5 percent in 2010, despite making up only 11.9 percent of the veteran labor force). The report also showed that in 2010, black veterans had a 12.7 percent unemployment rate, compared with 9.1 percent for white veterans, 9.2 for Latinos and 4.4 for Asian Americans.
On Friday President Obama expanded on his efforts to help more unemployed veterans find jobs, calling on Congress to increase funding in the 2013 budget for programs that hire veterans in local police and fire departments. His proposed budget, which he unveils next week, will include an additional $5 billion for those programs.
The president also put forward the creation of a $1 billion Veterans Jobs Corps that he claimed would place as many as 20,000 veterans in jobs preserving and restoring trails, roads, levees and other federal, state, local and tribal lands.
"Our veterans are some of the most highly trained, highly educated, highly skilled workers that we've got," the president said on Friday. "These are the Americans we want to keep serving here at home as we rebuild this country. So we're going to do everything we can to make sure that when our troops come home, they come home to new jobs and new opportunities and new ways to serve their country."
Despite the combined $6 billion price tag for the president's proposals, support for veterans is one of the few areas with bipartisan approval, so he stands a chance here. Last year when Democrats introduced various aspects of his American Jobs Act in individual pieces, the only bill to make it through was one that provided tax breaks for employers who hire veterans. It passed in a near-unanimous vote.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.