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WASHINGTON - Michelle Obama challenged America's top CEOs on Wednesday to "think outside the box" and hire more veterans.
The first lady said that, while declines in overall unemployment are encouraging, joblessness among the 9/11 generation of veterans - those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - is nearly two points higher than the national average, at 9.4 percent. She said that figure means that about 200,000 veterans don't have jobs, not including their spouses and those who will return home after the U.S. ends its combat mission in Afghanistan.
Unemployment nationwide fell two-tenths of a point last month to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in more than four years.
Addressing a meeting of the Business Roundtable, which represents chief executive officers of the 200 largest U.S. corporations, Mrs. Obama said the "Joining Forces" campaign she launched two years ago with Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, to rally the country around its military members, has led businesses to hire or train more than 125,000 veterans and military spouses. The private sector also has pledged to hire or train 250,000 more veterans by the end of 2014.
But, the first lady said, "we've still got a lot more work to do."
"Whether you're in finance or technology or the food industry, every single one of you can ask yourselves that same question: `What more can we do?'" she said. "So today, I want to challenge all the members of the Business Roundtable to answer that question for your business."
"Think outside the box, take real risks and work together to make big, bold commitments to hire our veterans and military spouses and help them reach their full potential within your companies. Show them that your business is there for them for the long haul," the first lady said.
In challenging the CEOs, Mrs. Obama highlighted Wal-Mart's pledge this year to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years as part of its plan to help jumpstart the economy. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the world's largest retailer and biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers.
Wal-Mart also has made an open-ended commitment to hire any honorably discharged veteran who is still looking for a job a year after they leave the military and wants to work for the retailer.
Separately, UPS said Wednesday that it will hire more than 25,000 veterans over the next five years and commit more than 25,000 employee volunteer hours to helping veterans and the organizations that serve them.
In her remarks, Mrs. Obama disclosed that vice presidents and human resource professionals from Business Roundtable companies met with White House officials last week to talk about how to find people with the particular skills needed at their businesses.