By Margaret Chadbourn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Obama administration program to encourage businesses to hire and train U.S. military veterans and their spouses has exceeded its target and helped secure work for 125,000 people, the White House said on Wednesday.
The jobs initiative, called "Joining Forces," which was unveiled more than a year ago, has already topped its original goal of providing employment aid for 100,000 by the end of 2013, first lady Michelle Obama said in a speech announcing new participation by U.S. companies.
"These companies are not making these commitments just because it's the right thing to do - which it is - they're doing this because it's the smart thing to do for their bottom lines," Obama told Navy personnel and their spouses at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida.
President Barack Obama launched the jobs initiative in April 2011 in a bid to help military families and returning service members find work in a tight labor market. The effort is part of his outreach to the military community that has picked up steam with the November election looming.
National polls show a weak economy and stubbornly high employment are voters' top concerns and a threat to Obama's re-election.
The first lady has spearheaded the program alongside Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
The White House has said the hiring push helped the unemployment rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans fall to 9.5 percent in June from 13.3 percent a year earlier. That remains above the national average jobless rate of 8.3 percent as of July.
Announcing new commitments from businesses in the election battleground state of Florida, the first lady said companies had now committed to hire or train an additional 250,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014. That number includes job support for at least 50,000 military spouses.
She said the jobs effort had been particularly helpful for those military families that experienced moves across state lines due to military transfers.
The White House jobs initiative is designed to recruit businesses, community and charitable groups to link up with military families. The program does not offer federal money, but instead relies on companies to take on job recruitment measures as public service ventures.
"We're not going to stop until all our veterans know that when they hit the job market, their skills will be rewarded," the first lady said.
She noted more than 2,000 businesses already had committed to hiring or training military veterans and spouses, including DuPont and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
(Reporting By Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Peter Cooney)