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Obama signs bipartisan jobs bill for veterans

Updated: 2:32 p.m. ET

President Obama on Monday signed a bill aimed at getting unemployed veterans back to work, marking a rare moment of bipartisanship among Washington lawmakers this year, and signifying the president's first achievement in pushing individual initiatives of his American Jobs Act through Congress piecemeal after its failure to pass earlier in the fall.

The president, speaking after an introduction from his wife Michelle Obama, said the bill would work to help America's 850,000 unemployed veterans find jobs by offering tax credits to businesses for hiring them - and urged companies to hire veterans because "it's the right thing to do."

"For businesses out there, if you are hiring, hire a veteran. It's the right thing to do for you. It's the right thing to do for them. And it's the right thing to do for our economy," Mr. Obama said in his remarks.

The bill provides double the tax incentives for companies who hire disabled veterans and repeals a 2006 law that, as of 2012, would have required federal, state, and local governments to withhold three percent of payments to contractors.

Mr. Obama also announced a series of executive actions aimed at providing unemployed veterans with the resources to find jobs - including a jobs bank, employment counseling and online resources allowing veterans to explore their employment options.

"The men and women of our military don't just fight for each other. They don't just fight for their units or for their commanders. They fight for every single American, for the millions of fellow citizens who they have never met and who they will likely never know," Mr. Obama said. "And just as they fight for us on the battlefield, it's up to us to fight for our troops and their families when they come home. And that's why today is such a wonderful day - because today a deeply grateful nation is doing right by our military and paying back just a little bit of what we owe to our veterans."

Noting that while unemployment in general fell slightly between October and November - from 9.1 percent to 9.0 percent - Mr. Obama emphasized that for veterans, unemployment figures are only getting worse.

"While we've added more than 350,000 private sector jobs over the last three months, we've got 850,000 veterans who can't find work," he said. "Even though the overall unemployment rate came down just a little bit last month, unemployment for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan continue to rise. And that isn't right. These men and women are the best that America has to offer. They are some of the most highly trained, highly educated, highly skilled workers that we have. If they can save lives on the battlefield, then they can save a life in an ambulance."

In October 2011, the unemployment rate of veterans aged 18-44 was 13.9 percent compared to 9.7 percent for nonveterans of the same age group, according to the Department of Labor. Among men, Gulf War-era II veterans had a 14.3 percent unemployment rate in October while nonveterans had a 9.9 percent jobless rate.

The pool of veterans is relatively small compared to the overall workforce, which suggests that even if all unemployed veterans found employment, the impact on the overall unemployment rate would be minimal. Some analysts question whether businesses will hire workers because of a tax break that is small relative to the size of the new worker's total compensation, particularly if they do not have the increased business to pay for the new worker.

The president urged Congress to "keep working" together to get Americans back to work, and pushed for a new set of tax cuts he plans to push going forward.

"My message to every member of Congress is keep going. Keep working, keeping finding more ways to put partisanship aside and put more Americans back to work," he said.

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