In a speech before the Business Roundtable, Obama focused on the need to help the “hundreds of thousands” of veterans and their spouses looking for work as the war in Afghanistan winds down. She listed some of their skill sets – IT specialists and operations managers, logistics coordinators – and served as a highly placed, if distant, reference.
“Let me tell you, they are some of the most nimble and creative and effective people you will ever meet,” Obama told the chief executives. “And I couldn’t recommend them more highly.”
Obama was speaking to a group of CEOs, including executives from Walmart, Motorola and UBS, that she described as employing nearly 16 million people and representing $7.3 trillion in annual revenue – almost half of the nation’s GDP.
“The folks in this room alone have the capacity to end veterans’ unemployment in this country,” she said, referring to the 9.4 percent of post-9/11 veterans who are unemployed. One in three veterans under 25 is unemployed and 200,000 active-duty military spouses are looking for work, she said. The Joining Forces campaign she launched with Jill Biden two years ago has spurred businesses to hire or train more than 125,00 veterans and military spouses, Obama said, but she implored the business leaders to do more.
Unlike her husband, whose relationship with the business community has sometimes been rocky, the first lady has forged strong partnerships around her key initiatives – and she praised Walmart for its open-ended commitment to hiring returning veterans. Earlier this month, Nike pledged $50 million toward the first lady’s “Let’s Move Active Schools” effort over the next five years.
Obama is the second first lady to address the Roundtable CEOs. Hillary Clinton spoke to the group in the mid-1990s to try to shore up support for the Clinton administration’s health plan.