The veterans unemployment rate dropped sharply last month to 4.1 percent, the lowest level it has been since the start of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday.
The May 2021 rate is down from the 5.2 percent estimate for a month earlier and matches the unemployment estimate from March 2020, the first month of partial business closures and layoffs due to coronavirus prevention restrictions. The jobless rate spiked to 11.7 percent a month later in April 2020, and has steadily declined over the last 13 months.
Outside analysts warn that individual monthly employment snapshots for veterans can be volatile given the limited number of veterans surveyed by federal researchers. But Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, said the continued positive trend for veterans in recent months is encouraging.
“It’s a good drop,” he said. “And I would suspect to see veterans employment even more towards the end of the year, as manufacturing and construction jobs accelerate. Those are industries where a lot of veterans are employed.”
The national unemployment rate fell from 6.1 percent in April to 5.8 percent in May, the first time that number has been below 6.0 percent since the start of the pandemic.
The hospitality industry — largely shuttered by the pandemic — saw the biggest gains, with more than 292,000 added nationwide last month. Those tourism-related jobs are major employers in several southern and western states, many of which have large concentrations of veterans living there.
The veterans unemployment rate has been better than the national rate 48 of the last 50 months. Frick attributed the improvement in the veterans numbers of late to the broader national economic recovery, and not any veteran specific trends or initiatives.
On Friday morning, President Joe Biden called the new jobs report “great news” for the country.
“Since [the survey was finished], 21 million more adults have gotten vaccinated, making it easier for them to return to work safely,” he said. “This is historic progress in pulling our economy out of the worst crisis it has seen in 100 years.”
The 4.1 percent unemployment figure still translates into roughly 380,000 veterans unable to find steady work last month. Of that group, roughly 40 percent were veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan War era.
That group younger veterans saw their unemployment rate fall to 4.0 percent in May, down from 5.1 percent in April.
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.