The unemployment rate for veterans ticked up in July but remained at a historic low just under 3% as the economy added another 187,000 jobs in a sign of labor market resilience.
The overall unemployment rate for the general population dipped from 3.6% in June to 3.5% in July, while the rate for all veterans went up from 2.7% to 2.9%, according to the monthly employment situation report Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For the post-9/11 generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the unemployment rate jumped from 2.6% in June to 3.4% in July in a group that has shown the most fluctuations in jobless rates in the long recovery from the double-digit rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We've come a long way" in the job market, former Army Capt. Allison Jaslow, an Iraq veteran and the new CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said of the transitioning post-9/11 veterans.
"There was a time when the private sector didn't see veteran talent for what it is," Jaslow said, but more and more employers have come to understand veterans as assets to their firms.
In July, job gains were recorded in health care, social assistance, financial activities and wholesale trade, the BLS report said, and the labor force participation rate stood at 62.6% for the fifth consecutive month. In addition, there are 1.5 job openings for each unemployed worker, the BLS said.
"These numbers are inconsistent with recession,'' Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su told The Associated Press as the Biden administration again sought to make the case that a recession can be avoided heading into an election year, despite the drumbeat of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.
In a separate statement, Su said, "The solid job market continues to deliver employment and earnings opportunities for our growing workforce, with average hourly earnings increasing 4.4% over the year," while the unemployment rate "ticked down to 3.5%, continuing the longest period of under 4% unemployment in over 50 years."
Also in a statement, President Joe Biden said the BLS report was more proof that "Bidenomics" is working with "unemployment near a record low and the share of working-age Americans who have jobs at a 20-year high."
"Our economy added 187,000 jobs last month, and we've added 13.4 million jobs since I took office -- more jobs added in two and a half years than during any president's four-year term," Biden said.
The key question going forward is whether Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will take the latest BLS report as a signal to ease off on interest rate hikes while still seeking to reach his target of bringing the rate of inflation down to 2%.
On July 26, the Fed raised the benchmark short-term interest rate from roughly 5.1% to 5.3%, its highest level since 2001, but Powell at the same time said he thought that a "soft landing," in which inflation comes down to 2% while avoiding a deep recession, is possible.
"My base case is that we will be able to achieve inflation moving back down to our target without the kind of really significant downturn that results in high levels of job losses," Powell said. "We do have a shot at a soft landing."
Despite signs that the booming post-pandemic economy may be cooling off, "employment right now lines up pretty well for veterans," said Robert Frick, corporate economist at the Navy Federal Credit Union.
"We're not close yet to filling the jobs that need to be filled," particularly in health care, and also in state and local government, Frick said. "Right now, the job market is firing on all cylinders" for veterans.
The gains for veterans in the jobs market were partly attributable to the change in attitude of some employers who once viewed veterans as malcontents who would be detrimental to their businesses, said Jeffrey Wenger, a senior policy researcher at the nonprofit Rand Corp.
"Some of that stigma around hiring veterans has been lifted, some of that narrative has gotten reversed," through the efforts of the veteran service organizations, and "in large part because national, state, local and business leaders have changed the narrative," Wenger said.
He also pointed to the impact of the Biden administration's $1.2 trillion Inflation Reduction Act in promoting jobs and economic opportunity. The question raised when the act was signed was "can we manage that enormous stimulus without overheating the economy," Wenger said, "and the answer seems to be, 'Yeah, we can do it.'"
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.