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First lady praises construction industry hiring

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This Jan. 16, 2014, file photo, shows first lady Michelle Obama in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. This Jan. 16, 2014, file photo, shows first lady Michelle Obama in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama says a construction industry pledge to hire 100,000 veterans by 2019 isn't only the right and patriotic thing to do, but also a smart thing for business.

The commitments by 100 companies and associations in construction were being announced Monday at a conference sponsored by the Labor Department and the initiative Joining Forces, a nationwide effort launched by Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to rally the U.S. around military veterans, active duty service members and their families.

Nearly 400,000 veterans and their spouses have been hired under the initiative since it began in 2011, said Mrs. Obama, who was joining Labor Secretary Thomas Perez for the announcement.

"By hiring veterans, businesses won't just be giving American heroes the chances they deserve to keep serving our country," the first lady wrote in an opinion piece appearing in Monday editions of The Wall Street Journal. "And the companies won't just be giving veterans' families the security that comes with a steady paycheck."

"These businesses will also be ensuring that they have the qualified employees they need to keep growing and creating new jobs and strengthening the economy for decades to come," she said. "They will be sending a clear message that we honor those who've sacrificed for us, and are determined to serve them as well as they have served our country."

Since Joining Forces began, companies with household names from Disney and Starbucks to UPS and Walmart have pledged to hire thousands of veterans.

But Monday's announcement is significant because it is the first time an entire industry has pledged to make sure that giving jobs to veterans "is always part of the mix and is really ingrained in the DNA of the business model," Perez said in an interview.

Unemployment among the 9/11 generation of veterans, those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, has been steadily declining during the past two years and stood at 7.9 percent in January, versus an overall unemployment rate of 6.6 percent. President Barack Obama often says these veterans shouldn't have to fight for a job when they come home after fighting for their country on the battlefield.

The construction industry is growing and is a place where veterans can use their military skills.

Last month, the construction industry had its strongest single month of job growth in the past four years, adding 48,000 jobs.

Nearly 180,000 construction jobs were created in the past year, Perez said, and about 1.5 million such jobs are forecast to be added through 2022.

Average wages are about $20 an hour, not including benefits, he said.

The industry's announcement is also timely because of the coming end, later this year, of the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, Perez said. Thousands of returning troops will be looking for jobs.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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