First Lady Michelle Obama Urges Businesses to Hire Veterans, Spouses

First Lady Michelle Obama discusses the importance of hiring military veterans and their spouses at the Business Roundtable Conference Center in Washington, DC, March 13, 2013

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Washington, DC – Veterans and military spouses make good employees because they know how to develop and execute complex plans, and they’re at their best when faced with high-pressure situations, First Lady Michelle Obama told attendees at the Business Roundtable Conference Center here today (March 13).

In her remarks, Obama continued her call on the private sector to hire veterans and military spouses as part of the Joining Forces initiative she co-sponsors with Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.

Now as hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses look for work, she said, one million more will leave the military in the next few years and join the ranks of those seeking jobs. “They will be trying to figure out how to achieve that sense of financial security and stability for their family, how to find that next mission to accomplish. That’s where all of you come in,” she added.

“This group of veterans –- the 9/11 Generation –- holds a special place in our history. These are the Americans who stepped up and volunteered to serve during wartime, knowing full well they would be sent into harm’s way,” she said. “They are young — the majority are between 18 and 34 years old –- and a record number of them are women.”

The members of the 9/11 generation, she said, are highly skilled, serving as information technology specialists, operations managers, logistics coordinators. They’ve overseen millions of dollars of assets and operated complicated machinery, Obama said. “On the battlefield, they are the leaders of today’s dynamic modern warfare,” she said. “And they’re doing all of this on the razor’s edge, when one wrong move could mean the difference between life or death.”

Back home, service members’ spouses also serve the country, she said, by volunteering, taking care of their children, managing the family’s finances, while many attend school at night, Obama said. And every couple of years, she added, spouses up root their lives and restart their careers as their families are transferred. These are the kinds of employees that business people are looking for to compete in today’s global marketplace, Obama said.

Post-9/11 veterans are experiencing 9.4 percent unemployment rate, Obama said, with about 200,000 people still unemployed. “That’s almost two points higher than the national rate. For women veterans the rate is even higher,” she said of the veterans unemployment rate. And among young veterans ages 18 to 24, she added, more than one out of three are unemployed. And there are 200,000 military spouses looking for work, she said.

“When you combine all those numbers with the one million veterans that we know will be transitioning home over the next few years, it couldn’t be more clear that we still have a lot more work to do,” Obama said.

She highlighted Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as an example by its commitment to hire 100,000 veterans during the next five years. “For every veteran who has served honorably and in need of a job the year after they separate from the military, Wal-Mart [says it] will hire them. The company is setting the bar high, [and is] saying no matter what: ‘We’ve got your back,’” Obama said.

She encouraged the audience members to work together and make bold commitments to hire veterans and military spouses. “If you do that, I know that you can build on the 125,000 folks that we’ve already hired or trained and you can help us bring our veterans unemployment rate down to zero — yes, zero,” Obama said. “That … is our goal. But it’s going to take every one of us doing our part to reach it.

“Your companies are uniquely poised to make a real, meaningful difference on this issue, she continued. “Together, you employ nearly 16 million people. You represent $7.3 trillion in revenue every single year –- almost half of our nation’s [gross domestic product]. The folks in this room alone have the capacity to end veterans’ unemployment in this country.”

Obama encouraged her audience “to sit down with each other and figure this out together by sharing best practices, pooling resources where it makes sense, and doing everything you can to fully integrate veterans into your businesses.”

“Just look around this room,” she added. “We’ve got competitors like UPS and FedEx, Verizon and AT&T, Viacom and DirecTV sitting at the same tables, ready to take on this issue together. No matter your differences, you’re here today because you know that hiring veterans is good for your company and good for our country.”

A job “is a source of pride,” Obama said, noting that the end of a military member’s service “doesn’t mean the end of their service to this country.” Military veterans “want to play a pivotal role in investing in our communities and rebuilding on this recovery,” she said. “They want to deploy their skills and energies to ensure that we remain the greatest nation on Earth. We owe it to them to give them that opportunity.”

There is not a moment to waste, Obama added, because the first few months after service members depart the military are pivotal. “So we’ve got to act fast. Now is the time when they’re making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives … when they’re beginning to feel whether or not this country is truly there for them,” she said. “We’ve got to join forces,” she added, “so that we can truly serve our veterans and military families as well as they have served us.”

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