Vets Ended 2023 with Jobless Rate Under 3%, Providing Debate Fodder for Potential Biden-Trump Fall Matchup

Workers prepare the South Lawn of the White House
Workers prepare the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, the day before Pope Francis arrives. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The first Labor Department jobs report for the new year released Friday added fodder to the 2024 presidential campaign by showing that a still-strong economy added 216,000 jobs in December, contributing to veterans ending 2023 with an average unemployment rate for the year under 3%.

The closely watched monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the nation's unemployment rate for December at 3.7%, unchanged from November. "Employment continued to trend up in government, health care, social assistance, and construction, while transportation and warehousing lost jobs," the BLS report said.

Ahead of his first campaign stop of the 2024 campaign, President Joe Biden seized on the BLS numbers to tout "Bidenomics" and contrast his nearly four years in office with the administration of former President Donald Trump.

"The economy created 2.7 million new jobs in 2023 -- a year when the unemployment rate was consistently below 4% -- more jobs than during any year of the prior administration," Biden said in a statement.

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The jobless rate for all veterans ticked up from 2.8% in November to 3% in December, and the rate for post-9/11 veterans also went up from 3.1% in November to 3.3% in December.

Still, the BLS stats for 2023 show that veterans ended the year with an average unemployment rate at about 2.8%, the lowest since 2000, in an economy that added 216,000 jobs and once again blew past think-tank and Wall Street expectations that job growth would be in the range of 160,000-190,000.

The BLS report also showed that jobs in government, both local and federal, more than doubled in 2023 over the average monthly gain of 23,000 in 2022. Government employment continued the trend in December, adding 52,000 jobs, the BLS report said.

"I know that some prices are still too high for too many Americans, and I am doing everything in my power to lower everyday costs for hard-working Americans -- from bringing down the price of insulin, prescription drugs, and energy, to addressing hidden junk fees companies use to rip you off, to calling on large corporations to pass on savings to consumers as their costs moderate," Biden said.

However, despite the drumbeat of government reports that inflation is easing, the labor market is strong and unemployment is at a 50-year low, most Americans don't trust the reports and believe the economy is tanking, according to a Harris poll conducted for the British newspaper the Guardian. About two-thirds of respondents felt that they were being financially squeezed despite the positive reports, the poll showed.

Biden issued the statement on his way to his first campaign rally of the new year in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where he was expected to paint Trump, the apparent front-runner for the Republican Party, as a threat to democracy.

Biden's statement on the BLS report amounted to the opening salvo in the 2024 presidential campaign in which Biden and Trump were expected to renew their bitter debates on defense and veterans issues.

On his campaign website, Trump claimed that his administration "passed the largest reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs in a generation" -- a reference to the VA Choice bill allowing veterans to choose private health care.

On national security issues, Trump claimed that he "replaced the failed policy of never-ending war, regime change and nation-building with a bold vision to pursue peace through strength," and also "fully rebuilt American military might, modernized our nuclear arsenal, and launched the Space Force."

Related: Veteran Unemployment Rate Stays Under 3% in Still Robust Jobs Market

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