President Barack Obama proposed tax credits Friday to help companies hire America's 1 million unemployed military veterans and vowed to press Congress harder this fall for legislation to provide more jobs for all.
Citing the nation's still wobbly economy and a new report showing unemployment remaining at over 9 percent, Obama told an audience at Washington's Navy Yard: "We are going to get through this. Things will get better. And we're going to get there together."
Obama's proposals were part of his efforts to return to a focus on jobs after spending weeks mired in the contentious debt-limit debate.
"My singular focus is the American people. Getting the unemployed back on the job, lifting their wages," he said.
Obama challenged Congress upon its return to get to work at once on legislation to extend for another year an expiring tax break on Social Security payroll taxes, to further extend unemployment insurance and a program for "putting construction workers back to work rebuilding America."
Obama spoke after the Labor Department reported that the economy added 117,000 jobs in July while the jobless rate ticked down to 9.1 percent from 9.2 percent in June.
While the report was better than economists had expected, the jobless rate has now topped 9 percent in every month except two since the recession officially ended in June 2009.
Obama said that members of the military returning to civilian life have a particularly hard time finding work in such a difficult environment.
Among the 1 million unemployed veterans, 260,000 are former service members who joined the military after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The long acrimonious battle over raising the government's debt limit "was divisive, it was delayed," Obama said. He said if businesses are expected to get cash off the sidelines and to invest and hire "we've got to do better than that."
The government says the unemployment rate for the post-Sept. 11 service members is 13.3 percent.
Obama's proposal would offer two tax credits for companies that hire unemployed veterans:
— A "Returning Heroes" credit for 2012-2013. Companies that hire unemployed veterans would receive a $2,400 tax credit. It would increase to $4,800 if the veteran has been unemployed for six months or more.
— A two-year extension of the "Wounded Warriors" tax credit, which gives companies that hire veterans with service-related disabilities a $4,800 credit. If the veteran has been unemployed for six months or more, the credit increases to $9,600.
The tax credits would require congressional approval. The administration estimated the cost of the tax credits at $120 million.
During his remarks, Obama also challenged private companies to hire or train 100,000 veterans by the end of 2013. He is expected to name some companies that already have committed to taking part in that effort.
The president also announced a joint initiative between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to come up with a "reverse boot camp" program that would help train service members for the transition to the civilian work force as they wind down their time in the military.
Obama welcomed the latest unemployment report, noting that it reflected the 17th month of job growth in the private sector. "The unemployment rate went down, not up," he added.
Still, he said, "we have to create more jobs than that to make up for the 8 million jobs the recession claimed."