Veterans and disabled workers could soon discover it easier to find a job thanks to new rules announced Tuesday by the Labor Department.
The rules require most government contractors to set a goal of having at least 7 percent of their total workforce be made up of disabled workers. For veterans, the goal is 8 percent and will change yearly based on the number of former military members in the workforce.
"In a competitive job market, employers need access to the best possible employees," Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said. "These rules make it easier for employers to tap into a large, diverse pool of qualified candidates."
The benchmark set for veterans updates the 1974 Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act and will require contractors to track the number of former military members it employs. Both of the new regulations also require contractors to document actions related to recruiting, training and record keeping.
Companies that can't show evidence they are trying to meet the hiring goals risk losing their federal contracts.
The Labor Department has long had similar standards for contractors hiring women and minorities.
The changes will go into effect in six months and are just the latest effort to help both groups overcome hurdles to finding employment.
According to an AP report, the unemployment rate for disabled workers is 14.7 percent as compared to 7.4 percent for the general population. The jobless rate for all veterans is 7.3 percent but that number grows to 9.9 percent for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As many as 171,000 contractors and subcontractors doing business with the government will be impacted by the change, according to the AP report. That translates to jobs for as many as 585,000 disabled workers and more than 200,000 veterans if all companies meet the hiring goals within the first year.
"Strengthening these regulations is an important step toward reducing barriers to real opportunities for veterans and individuals with disabilities," said Patricia A. Shiu, director of the department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces both laws.