Veterans unemployment in March reached its lowest level since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago, but still remains significantly higher than before the nationwide shutdowns and business restrictions began.

On Friday, officials from the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that unemployment among all veterans last month was at 5 percent, down from 5.5 percent in February and less than half of what it was in April 2020, right at the start of the pandemic.

Last spring, that number rose to 11.7 percent as civic and industry leaders shut down nearly all public gatherings and severely restricted non-emergency travel in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus across America. Since then, nearly 550,000 Americans have died from complications related to the illness.

Despite recent rollbacks of those restrictions and improvements in recent months in the unemployment estimates, more veterans remain looking for work now than they did before the pandemic. From April 2018 to February 2020, the veterans unemployment rate never rose above 4 percent, and fell as low as 2.3 percent.

The 5 percent rate translates into about 450,000 veterans nationwide looking for steady work. BLS officials said about 8.5 million veterans are in the workforce today, with nearly 10 million already past retirement age or unable to work due to injuries and illness.

Iraq and Afghanistan War era veterans remain the hardest hit generational group of veterans looking for work, making up more than half of the unemployed group.

Their unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent in March, up slightly from the 5.9 percent rate in February. That group’s figure rose as high as 13 percent in the early days of the pandemic.

Nationally, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 6 percent in March, the 11th time the number has decreased month-to-month since peaking at 14.7 percent in April 2020. In February 2020, the last full month before pandemic shutdowns, the national rate was 3.5 percent.

On Wednesday, during a speech unveiling his new infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden lamented that American “was in extreme distress on the day I was elected with a virus on a deadly rampage,” resulting in “an economy that left millions out of work and created so much anxiety.”

He has proposed a nearly $2 trillion infrastructure investment plan which would create new jobs to fill in some of the pandemic losses, but the ambitious and expensive package faces a difficult path in Congress.

Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs officials in coming weeks are expected to unveil a new job retraining program for veterans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, part of the latest coronavirus relief plan approved by Congress last month.

Eligibility for that program is restricted to individuals who have already used up other GI Bill education benefits but need new training and certifications to switch to in-demand industries.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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