Skip to Content

Does the Struggling Economy Give Military Recruitment a Boost?

The military is getting an influx of unlikely recruits to enlist in their ranks: recent college graduates.

Because of the lackluster economy, the military is seeing a boost in enlistment numbers from those with a bachelor's degree. Also, many observe that when the economy suffers, more Americans across the board join the armed forces.

The Army so far is exceeding its recruiting goals for FY 2012. Through June, the Army has 42,538 accessions, with a goal of 42,250. The other branches are also meeting their recruitment goals.

So how does today's economy influence military recruitment?

New Motivations to Enlist

There are plenty of stories about how grads are turning to the military because they are unable to find a job in the civilian sector or because they need money for college.

Louis Lam is one of those people. He dreamed of working for a major engineering firm after finishing college. His plans changed, though, when both of his parents lost their jobs. Joining the military never was a thought for him, but the financial situation at home and seeing his friends struggle finding jobs after graduation made him think differently.

"I was like, I really need to get this job as soon as possible," Lam told NPR. "Otherwise, we might lose the house."

The military uses a variety of cash bonuses at enlistment to draw potential enlistees. Bonuses can reach as high $40,000. The amount depends on the branch of service and career field. Also, the GI Bill is very attractive to recent high school graduates who hope to attend college one day.

The Navy will pay Lam $50,000 while he finishes up his last year of college. Lam has signed with the Navy for five years. After graduation, he will use his engineering training to work on nuclear reactors aboard submarines and ships.

By the Numbers

Since the recession began, all the branches of the military have had no problems meeting their goals. 2009 was a banner year for recruiting, with all the service branches meeting or exceeding their recruiting goals for the first time since the military became an all-volunteer force in 1973. Not only has quantity increased, but the quality of enlistees as gone up as well.

"When the economy worsens, as it has in recent years, we certainly see a surge in the number of young people who are highly qualified, who want to join the military," Beth Asch told NPR, who researches military recruitment for the RAND Corp.

In 2010, the National Priorities Project analyzed the correlation between unemployment and recruitment rates across the country, and they found little in common. The data might not show a strong statistical connection between unemployment and military recruitment, but the researchers say that there are other factors that support recruiters' claims that the weak economy is pushing people to join the military as a career.

The unemployment rate in 2008 was 5.8%. The rate jumped drastically to 9.3% in 2009. The recruitment rates had a corresponding jump. In FY 2008 the Army exceeded its recruitment goal by 1%. In FY 2009 the numbers exceeded the Army's goal by 8%, signing about 5,000 more recruits than their 65,000 benchmark.

In 1982, the unemployment rate also surpassed 9%. The following year the US Army conducted a study to determine the economic impact on military enlistment rates. The results appeared to be very similar to those of 2009.

"Enlistments of nonprior service male high school graduates are affected very strongly by the national unemployment rate," wrote the researchers in the 1983 study. "The unemployment effect found in the present work is larger than that found in much of the earlier research, partly due to very high recent unemployment rates."

Regardless of whether or not there is a causal link between unemployment and enlistment rates, many who enlist are seeking the benefits of a steady income, stable job, and opportunities for career growth.

Check Your $0 Down Eligibility Today!

START HERE: $0 Down VA Home Loans
4,893 Veterans started their online quote today.