By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama said Monday that a pledge by the construction industry to hire more than 100,000 veterans by early 2019 is “a huge deal” that will help companies grow and boost the U.S. economy for decades to come.
Obama announced the commitment by more than 100 construction companies and associations at a conference sponsored by the Department of Labor and Joining Forces, a nationwide effort that she and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched nearly three years ago to rally the U.S. around military veterans, active duty service members and their families.
Many of the companies involved in the pledge, the first lady said, are direct competitors.
“I know that you all have made this commitment not just because it is the patriotic thing to do, which it is,” Obama said, speaking to the construction firms and associations represented at the conference. “You’ve done this because you know that it is the smart thing to do for your businesses.”
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the announcement marked the first time that an entire industry has pledged to focus on providing jobs and training opportunities to military veterans.
According to an opinion piece attributed to Obama and published in the Monday issue of The Wall Street Journal, such well-known companies as Disney, Starbucks, UPS and Walmart have hired nearly 400,000 veterans and their spouses under Joining Forces since the initiative began in 2011.
Perez, in an interview before the conference, said he wants other industries to adopt the same approach of ensuring “that the hiring of veterans is always part of the mix and is really engrained in the DNA of the business model.”
Obama and Perez noted that the construction industry is one of the fastest growing in the country. Last month, the industry had its strongest single month of job growth in the past four years, adding 48,000, according to government data.
Nearly 180,000 construction jobs were created in the past year, Perez said. About 1.5 million such jobs are forecast to be added through 2022.
Monday’s announcement also was timely because of the coming end, later this year, of the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan. Thousands of troops will be returning home, and many will be looking for jobs.
Unemployment among service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, also known as the 9/11 generation, has declined steadily during the past two years and stood at 7.9 percent in January, versus an overall unemployment rate of 6.6 percent. President Barack Obama often has said those veterans should not have to fight for a job after they have fought for their country on the battlefield.
Taking a long view, the first lady said the industry’s commitment also is about more than just putting highly skilled, highly motivated people into good jobs with good salaries.
“It’s also about providing our companies with the very best workers,” she said, “so that they can keep growing, and they can keep creating even more jobs and strengthening our economy for decades to come.”
The Home Builders Institute and the Associated General Contractors of America are among the dozens of participating companies and associations.Follow @dsupervilleap