Veterans' unemployment edges down but still high

WASHINGTON (AP) - New Labor Department figures show the unemployment rate for working-age veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces since September 2001 edged down slightly in 2013, to 9.0 percent. But Thursday's report also found that the rate remained well above the overall civilian unemployment figure of 6.7 percent.

The decrease followed a decline to 9.9 percent in 2012.

The statistics cover veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces at any time since September 2001, a group referred to as Gulf War-era veterans.

Still, the number was far higher than overall unemployment levels in the United States, which averaged 7.4 percent in 2013 and finished the year with a 6.7 percent overall rate for December. The overall unemployment rate was also 6.7 percent in February 2014.

The report by the agency's Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the overall unemployment rate for all veterans still considered in the work force, including those from earlier periods, was 6.6 percent for all of 2013, down from 7.0 percent the year before.

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez noted that the 6.6 percent level represented "an encouraging drop" from previous years and urged the nation's employers to hire more veterans.

"Veterans have the skills that employers are looking for. They make our nation's workforce more productive, our companies more profitable and our economy more competitive. Smart businesses recruit veterans because it's in their self-interest, because they know it's a sound investment in their bottom line," Perez said.

Twenty-nine percent of veterans serving since 2001 reported having a service-connected disability as of last August, compared with 15 percent of all veterans.

In 2013, 21.4 million men and women, or 9 percent of the general population age 18 and over were veterans, the report said.

Veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era accounted for roughly half of the total veteran population in the United States of 21.4 million men and women.

The unemployment rate for recent veterans has been noticeably higher than it is for non-veterans in the same demographic group, although the gap has been narrowing.

The new numbers came out a day after President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans in recognition of their valor during major combat operations in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

The annual report was compiled by the Labor Department with the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Among all of the veterans, the unemployment rate for women declined to 6.9 percent in 2013 while the rate for male veterans edged down to 6.6 percent.