Opinion: A salute to vets and American workers

FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2020, file photo dark clouds and heavy rain sweep over the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The federal budget deficit is projected to hit a record $3.3 trillion as huge government expenditures to fight the coronavirus and to prop up the economy have added more than $2 trillion to the federal ledger, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday, Sept. 2. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2020, file photo dark clouds and heavy rain sweep over the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The federal budget deficit is projected to hit a record $3.3 trillion as huge government expenditures to fight the coronavirus and to prop up the economy have added more than $2 trillion to the federal ledger, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday, Sept. 2. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

Americans often celebrate the men and women of the United States military who courageously sacrifice for our freedom. On Labor Day, our service members, veterans, and their families return the favor by honoring the American workers who built our great country.

Choosing military service comes out of a desire to defend our Constitution and protect the American dream, a dream which materializes in the fruits of labor. It is the American worker – our most important strategic asset — whom we must thank for our national standing, our prosperity, and our bright future. Each year, approximately 250,000 young men and women are inspired to voluntarily join the military to protect what the American worker has delivered for generations. Our nation’s strong labor force continues to play a critical role sustaining our all-volunteer force by inspiring military service.

In peace, and in war, our military depends upon the American worker. In 1945, President Truman reflected “our thoughts go out to the millions of American workers and businessmen, to our farmers and miners — to all those who have built up this country’s fighting strength, and who have shipped to our Allies the means to resist and overcome the enemy.” Preparing for and fighting our nation’s battles has always required a team effort.

When our military men and women hang up their uniforms and return to civilian life, they often join the ranks of the American worker, and in so doing, they continue to serve their country. The agency which I am privileged to lead, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), focuses solely on enabling veterans to achieve their full potential in the workforce. We are proud of the fact that veterans have a higher labor force participation rate than non-veterans up to the age when people typically retire.

Washington, DC –    \r***Official Department of Labor Photograph***\rPhotographs taken by the federal government are generally part of the public domain and may be used, copied and distributed without permission. Unless otherwise noted, photos posted here may be used without the prior permission of the U.S. Department of Labor. Such materials, however, may not be used in a manner that imply any official affiliation with or endorsement of your company, website or publication.\r \rPhoto Credit: Department of Labor\rShawn T Moore
Washington, DC – \r***Official Department of Labor Photograph***\rPhotographs taken by the federal government are generally part of the public domain and may be used, copied and distributed without permission. Unless otherwise noted, photos posted here may be used without the prior permission of the U.S. Department of Labor. Such materials, however, may not be used in a manner that imply any official affiliation with or endorsement of your company, website or publication.\r \rPhoto Credit: Department of Labor\rShawn T Moore

Credit: U.S. Department of Labor

Credit: U.S. Department of Labor

By the end of 2019, veteran unemployment had continued its years of steady decreases. In fact, the average monthly rate last year was 3.1%, the best since 2000, and five of those months achieved lower seasonally adjusted rates than any month from any other year on record. While unemployment has understandably increased due to COVID-19, the veteran unemployment rate today is lower than that of their non-veteran counterparts. Employers recognize the value of veterans, especially during these challenging times.

In the midst of the pandemic, veteran unemployment rates are no worse than they were during the depth of the Great Recession. The good news is we have a few things going for us that we didn’t have then. First of all, we’ve recently made the journey to record low veteran unemployment, and we know how to do it again. Secondly, thanks to Administration priorities and congressional support, our agency is better resourced today than we were a decade ago. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we know that the majority of those who were recently furloughed will be able to return to their former jobs once it’s safe to reopen the country fully. This in no way is to suggest that the road to recovery will not be challenging, but it is to say that the American worker is up to the challenge. I salute you all.

John Lowry is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. He has held a number of manufacturing leadership roles in the private sector and served in the U.S. Marine Corps.