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Joseph Kaczmarek/AP

Rise in Military Recruitment Could Be Attributed to the Economy

December 02, 2008 12:53 PM
by Josh Katz
Enrollment in the U.S. military is up, reflecting similar trends in the U.K. Some say the economy is responsible, but others think more factors are at work.

Military Sees Surge in Recruitment

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Military recruitment in Oregon is reflecting a nationwide trend, according to the Associated Press. The readiness to serve is surpassing the expectations of Army recruiters in Central Oregon, and it could be correlated to the economic crisis, says the article.

Charles Glenn, a civilian advertising and public affairs specialist for the Army’s Portland Recruiting Battalion, said, “We had a hard time throughout Oregon and California” before the downturn. But, “[t]hings have been improving gradually since last summer,” AP reports.

Ted Jones, spokesman for the Jacksonville Army Recruiting Battalion, said his recruitment area of north Florida and south Georgia has also shown better numbers, according to the Independent Florida Alligator.

In general, the U.S. Armed Forces have seen a swell in recruitment. In October, the Army revealed that it recruited 80,000 soldiers during the past fiscal year, according to The Washington Post. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that unemployment climbed from 4.8 to 6.5 percent during a similar time period.

According to Glenn, “There are two schools of thought about that, but generally the one that seems to be the most accurate, year in and year out, is that the economy really is the driving force behind it. We generally do better in times when … the economy is in this kind of state. The more options people have, the more chance that they are going to do something else,” according to AP.

Since the military restricted itself to volunteers in 1973, it has historically had difficulty recruiting when the private sector has thrived, while recessions have boosted recruitment.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat it: We’re a nation at war,” said Lt. Col. Michael Bennett, who commands the Maryland Army National Guard’s recruiting battalion. “But we offer a stability of income that a lot of employers can’t guarantee right now,” The Washington Post reports.

The Army has focused on its marketing, stressing how the training could be used for more than 150 possible career paths. The G.I. Bill offers those who have completed their service payment for attending in-state public universities. The government could cover full expenses for individuals who serve three or more years, AP writes.

The increased recruitment numbers should result in greater selectivity. But upon entry, recruits earn $1,246 or more in monthly base salaries, according to AP. The Post also indicates that enlistment bonuses have risen recently, and could go as high as $40,000.

But the economy may not be the only reason for increased military recruitment. Jones, from the Jacksonville Army Recruiting Battalion, gave credit to the exit strategy in Iraq, according to the Independent Florida Alligator. “We’ve got a lot more positive news coming out of Iraq,” he said. “The situation there has certainly improved.”

In addition, the Army changed the maximum age for new service members from 35 to 42 in 2005 after it failed to hit its 2005 goal by 7,000 recruits, according to The Post.

Lt. Col. Michael Rosamond, professor of military science for the University of Florida Army ROTC, said more students have joined his ROTC class, but he says the increase appeared in August, which was before the economy started to spiral downward, the Alligator reports. “Everyone thinks that once the economy goes bad, people flock to the military,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the economy.”

Prior to the economic slide, a June Defense Department survey revealed that “11 percent of people between 16 to 21 said they would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ serve in the armed forces, up 2 percent from last year,” also suggesting that the economy may not be the only factor in the recruitment boom, the Post writes.

Related Topic: Recruitment swells in the U.K.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has indicated that recruitment in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force has risen 14.5 percent in a year. Approximately 2,190 more recruits will be trained for service in 2008-9 than were in the previous 12 months, the Daily Telegraph reports. Personnel in the first stages of training have not reached such numbers since June 2004. In the same period of time, the number of recruits departing the military has dropped 3.5 percent, hitting its lowest number since June 2005.

The economy is credited as a major factor there, as well.

“It is true that when there is an economic downturn, recruitment tends to go up,” said Alan Whitelaw, the regimental colonel of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. “The downturn in the economy will have an effect although it will be difficult in different parts of the country.”

Whitelaw also said, “Over the past two years, recruitment has been markedly down, which is a factor of a strong economy." Northern England is one of the areas boasting the strongest recruitment numbers, an area hit hard by the economy, according to the Telegraph.

Reference: Joining and supporting the armed forces

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