The overall veteran unemployment rate dropped to a pre-pandemic level of 3.6% in August, despite a disappointing jobs report showing that new hires fell by more than 860,000 compared to July as COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant surge.
"Clearly, we have more work to do," Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said on MSNBC of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly employment report.
"It's going to be a longer-term recovery," he said, adding that "we need to get these infection rates down."
At the White House, President Joe Biden said he had been "hoping for a higher number" of new hires, but "too many have not been vaccinated and that's creating unease in our economy."
Still, "we're adding jobs, not losing them," he said.
Biden spoke before leaving for New Orleans to survey damage from Hurricane Ida near the end of what has arguably been the worst week of his presidency. It was marked by the U.S. military's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the COVID-19 surge, deadly hurricane-related flooding across both the Northeast and Southeast, rampaging wildfires in the West, and challenges to the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision.
The economy added just 235,000 new jobs last month, well short of the 720,000 analysts had predicted and a huge drop from the 1.1 million hires in July, the bureau said. Until August, the economy had averaged 586,000 new jobs per month this year.
Nationwide, the overall unemployment rate declined 0.2% to 5.2% in August. Among all veterans, the jobless rate dropped from 4.0% in July to 3.6% in August -- the first time since February 2020 the unemployment rate for veterans has fallen below 4%.
For post-9/11 veterans, the group traditionally considered most at risk in the job market, the rate was essentially unchanged -- down from 3.2% in July to 3.1% in August. The 3.1% figure was the lowest for post-9/11 vets since December 2019.
The seeming anomaly in the numbers -- falling unemployment rates even as new hires drop significantly -- could be attributed to how the numbers are collected and counted.
Much of the data in the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics reports come from the first two weeks of the month and may not have accounted for the Delta variant's full impact on the economy.
In addition, 5.6 million people in August said they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic, up from 5. 2 million in July.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.