Is a strong economy tanking military recruiting?

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Historically low unemployment and slowly increasing wages have generally been good news for the nation. (Even if the Democrats continue to deny or ignore it and you can’t get most GOP candidates to run on it.) But there’s one area where even the most optimistic cloud has a not-so-silver lining. The military is once again seeing downward trends in recruiting and part of the reason may be the bright economic news. (Washington Times)

In a push to fill the ranks in the face of a booming economy, the U.S. Army will be sending hundreds of recruiters into nearly two dozen cities in the coming weeks in an attempt to bolster lackluster enlistment numbers, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said Monday.

Speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual Washington conference, Gen. Milley acknowledged the challenge of recruitment even as the Trump administration delivers on a promise for higher funding, insisting that the enlistment numbers are serious but fall short of a crisis for the service. The Army missed its annual recruiting goal this year for the first time in more than a decade.

“It is certainly a warning light … but it is not by any means a catastrophe,” Gen. Milley said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there” in the private sector for young men and women who might once have considered a military career.

This isn’t a crisis situation yet. The Army missed it’s recruiting goal for the past fiscal year, but not by much. Their goal was 76,500 recruits and they signed up about 70,000. The other main factor is that the Army has upped the requirements for entry when it comes to the more desirable (and hard to fill) jobs. They’ve got enough people willing to sling a rifle and go into combat, but they also need people with high-tech training, particularly with the advent of drone warfare related requirements.

This isn’t a new problem. One of the major barriers to recruitment has always been the pay. In today’s American military, a new recruit in grade E-1 (which is a private in the Army and a Seaman Recruit in the Navy) is $1,514.70 per month. Granted, you don’t pay much in taxes at that rate and virtually all of your living expenses are covered if you can stomach the chow, but it’s still a rather paltry sounding pay scale. That’s particularly true when you consider you can make more than $2.400 per month flipping burgers full time in many cities and you don’t have crazed Islamic fighters shooting at you during your walk to work every day.

Just as an aside, when I first enlisted in the Navy and went to boot camp, my base pay was $374.40 per month. Yes… I said per month. There’s a bit of perspective for you.

Of course, when unemployment was through the roof and the minimum wage hadn’t started going up, even a low paying job serving your country didn’t seem like such a bad deal. Particularly when you consider that you didn’t have to pay anything for rent, utilities, work clothes or even food as long as you ate on base. Now the Army is competing with Walmart, where you may not get to see the world but the incidents of IEDs in the parking lot are considerably less common.

So what can the military do? They already offer free (or greatly subsidized) college tuition, career planning and a host of other options. They really can’t start doubling everyone’s pay overnight or the military budget will be busted. In the end, we are forced to rely on the patriotism and sense of duty some Americans still feel for their country. But as that commodity dwindles in supply we could be looking at a significantly more grim picture in the future.

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