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WASHINGTON -- Veterans unemployment claims dropped for the first time in four months in February, but the good news was tempered by concerns about what sequestration will do to those jobs figures in coming weeks.
Overall veterans unemployment fell to 6.9 percent, with roughly 772,000 veterans nationwide still looking for work, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number was over 1 million veterans 20 months ago, and nearly 1.2 million in February 2010.
The number of Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans looking for work dropped to about 200,000 individuals, a 9.4 percent unemployment rate for that group.
Last month was the first time since September 2012 that figure dropped below 10 percent, but the young veterans rate remains well above the national unemployment average of 7.7 percent.
BLS officials said companies added 236,000 U.S. jobs last month, pushing the national unemployment rate to a four-year low. Since November, businesses have averaged more than 200,000 new jobs a month, which economics experts said points to an improving economy.
And that wasn't the only good news. Researchers said wages have risen 2.1 percent in the past year, slightly ahead of inflation.
The unemployment data is current up to March 1, the date that sequestration's deep automatic spending cuts went into effect. Outside experts have predicted the $85 billion in mandatory agency spending cuts will have a devastating effect on the economy.
In his weekly address March 2, President Barack Obama said the funding cuts will cost the country jobs, and not just among government agencies.
"At a time when our businesses are finally gaining some traction, hiring new workers, bringing jobs back to America -- the last thing Washington should do is to get in their way," he said. "That's what these cuts to education, research and defense will do. … And at a time when too many of our friends and neighbors are still looking for work, it's inexcusable."
Republicans and Democrats each have blamed their opponents for the deadlock alternatives to the cuts.
And while the positive jobs news drew praise from veterans groups, those advocates have also spent the last few weeks on Capitol Hill warning lawmakers that more needs to be done to help find post-military careers for returning troops.
On Wednesday, leaders from the Veterans of Foreign Wars backed plans to expand VA vocational rehabilitation program, to create easier civilian licensing standards for skilled troops and to improve the current transition assistance programs designed to prepare servicemembers for civilian life.