Veterans unemployment rose in December to its highest rate in nearly a year despite positive jobs news for the American economy as a whole.

But despite last month’s increase, Department of Labor officials said the total number of veterans looking for work remains at historic lows, with fewer than 300,000 veterans receiving jobless benefits for the 11th consecutive month.

The veterans unemployment rate hit 3.2% in December, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s up from 2.8% in November and only the third time since the start of 2022 that the mark topped 3.0%.

Before that, the veterans unemployment rate had not been below 3.0% since 2019. Last year saw nine consecutive months of veterans jobless rates below that mark, the longest such stretch since BLS began tracking veterans unemployment in 2000.

The 3.2% unemployment rate for veterans last month was also still below the national unemployment rate of 3.5%, which was down from 3.7% in November. Officials said the economy added 223,000 jobs in December, a lower figure than previous months but still positive news for job-seekers.

Roughly 18.2 million veterans are living in America today, with roughly half of that population of working age and without any significant disabilities that would prevent them from full-time employment.

Of that group, nearly 60% are veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars era. The unemployment rate for those younger veterans alone in December was 3.0%, slightly better than the overall veterans rate.

The 3.2% unemployment rate translates into about 280,000 veterans unable to find steady employment last month. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, that number topped 1 million individuals.

Congress has made military transition programs and veterans job assistance efforts a priority in recent years, and recent presidential administrations have worked to promote veterans as reliable, skilled workers that private businesses would recruit.

In a statement after the jobs report release, President Joe Biden called the estimates “great news for our economy” and evidence that his administration’s economic plans are working.

“We have just finished the two strongest years of job growth in history,” he said. “And we are seeing a transition to steady and stable growth that I have been talking about for months. We still have work to do to bring down inflation, and help American families feeling the cost-of-living squeeze. But we are moving in the right direction.”

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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