This story was originally published at 6:42 p.m. EDT March 22, 2016
The annual unemployment rate for the latest generation of veterans in 2015 was the lowest ever recorded — by far, government statistics indicate.
Post-9/11 veterans charted an average unemployment rate of 5.8 percent for the year, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released today, down significantly from the 7.2 percent posted last year.
Not only is the annual rate for 2015 significantly lower than any other annual rate in the group's history, it's also lower than all but a few of the pre-2015 monthly unemployment rates, which are volatile and prone to dramatic increases and decreases.
Veteran employment experts attributed the employment gains to an improving economy, combined with an intense focus on the issue from public and private sectors alike. Still, they emphasized that there is work left to do.
"That doesn't mean it's time for a victory lap or anything like that," said Ryan Gallucci, Veterans of Foreign Wars deputy director for national veterans service.
The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans has been on a wild ride since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began to track it in September 2008.
Starting with a 7.5 percent average that year, post-9/11 veterans' unemployment climbed to double digits in 2009-2011, as the recession deflated the national economy. Several jobs reports for individual months climbed into the teens over these years, which charted annual unemployment rates of 10.2 percent, 11.6 percent and 12.0 percent, respectively, for post-9/11 vets.
Then 2012 brought the average annual unemployment rate just under 10 percent, followed by a further drop in 2013. The 2014 rate of 7.2 percent — though greatly surpassed by 2015's rate — was itself a record low when it came out last year.
Indeed, 2015 was a year of records for post-9/11 veteran unemployment in many ways. New record lows were set in the monthly jobs reports three times that year, and six of the eight monthly reports from May until the end of the year charted either the lowest or the second lowest unemployment rates ever recorded at the time they came out.
Unemployment rates for post-9/11 veterans remain slightly higher than those of nonveterans, who charted a 5.2 percent rate in 2015, down from 6 percent in 2014.
For veterans of all generations, the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in 2015, down from the 2014 rate of 5.3 percent.
"Some of the improvement in the unemployment rate for veterans across the board has happened somewhat in parallel with the overall reduction in our nation's unemployment numbers over the last five to six years," Jack Norton, a spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program, said in an emailed statement.
"At the same time, though, through much of our effort, businesses of all sizes have been reminded of the value of veterans as employees and have strengthened their veteran hiring programs as a result," Norton's statement added.
Hiring Our Heroes and several other vet hiring groups and initiatives, some joining companies that account for wide swaths of the nation's economy, formed in the darker days of vet employment to help vets find jobs.
VFW's Gallucci acknowledged the role of such groups in the collapsing vet unemployment rates and also credited some government efforts.
"We attribute it to improvements in the transition assistance program and improvement in the job market generally," he said.
Still, he identified TAP as a program that itself has room for improvement, adding that its curriculum should be easily accessible to vets after they leave the military and that the federal government needs to better track how veterans do in the job market.
"It needs to be a sustained mission of the military, the way that recruitment and retention is a sustained mission of the military," he said.
A written statement from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America similarly expressed caution.
"While IAVA is encouraged by progress, there is still much work to be done. Sustainable change will require not just jobs but investments in long-term careers for this next generation of leaders," the statement said.