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First lady praises construction hiring of vets

Feb. 10, 2014 - 11:01AM   |  
Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama says a construction industry pledge to hire 100,000 veterans by 2019 isn't only the right and patriotic thing to do, it's also a smart thing for business. (Charles Dharapak / AP)
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WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama says a construction industry pledge to hire 100,000 veterans by 2019 isn’t only the right and patriotic thing to do, it’s also a smart thing for business.

The commitments by 100 companies and associations in construction were being announced Monday at a conference sponsored by the Labor Department and the initiative Joining Forces, a nationwide effort launched by Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to rally the U.S. around military veterans, active duty service members and their families.

Nearly 400,000 veterans and their spouses have been hired under the initiative since it began in 2011, said Mrs. Obama, who was joining Labor Secretary Thomas Perez for the announcement.

“By hiring veterans, businesses won’t just be giving American heroes the chances they deserve to keep serving our country,” the first lady wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on Monday. “And the companies won’t just be giving veterans’ families the security that comes with a steady paycheck.”

“These businesses will also be ensuring that they have the qualified employees they need to keep growing and creating new jobs and strengthening the economy for decades to come,” she said.

Since Joining Forces began, companies with household names from Disney and Starbucks to UPS and Walmart have pledged to hire thousands of veterans. But Monday’s announcement is significant because it is the first time an entire industry has pledged to make sure that giving jobs to veterans “is always part of the mix and is really ingrained in the DNA of the business model,” Perez said in an interview.

Unemployment among the post-Sept. 11, 2001 generation of veterans, those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, has been steadily declining during the past two years and stood at 7.9 percent in January, versus an overall unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.

Nearly 180,000 construction jobs were created in the past year, Perez said, and about 1.5 million such jobs are forecast to be added through 2022. Average wages are about $20 an hour, not including benefits, he said.

The industry’s announcement is also timely because of the coming end, later this year, of the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, Perez said. Thousands of returning troops will be looking for jobs.

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