Experts say the problematic military recruiting environment is more than a low unemployment rate.

Economist Beth Asch has been studying military recruiting for nearly 40 years and is an optimist in recruiting. During Asch’s research, the military experienced successful and unsuccessful recruiting periods.

Recruitment was affected in the 1990s by the dot-com boom when more people were being hired in the growing technology sector. However, a more robust economy and the Iraq war in 2005 led to fewer people joining the military.

Recruiting problems can be overcome, as shown by history, Asch said.

She said it usually requires a lot of resources, results in mistakes, and is quite costly. However, I am hopeful that things will get back on track. Things have to.”
Senior military leaders have posited that the strong job market may be the reason behind the current recruiting difficulties because it may be challenging to entice personnel who also have the option to work for companies like Amazon.

However, the top Marine Corps officer suggested in a November article that a lack of eligible recruits and decreased confidence in the military are probably the main reasons for recruitment difficulties, not the strong job market.

According to Gen. David Berger, Commandant of the Marines, the Marine Corps is having trouble recruiting talented young Americans in a competitive economy and from a society increasingly distant from the military. All of the services are facing similar issues. This concerns me as a Commandant and a Joint Chiefs of Staff member because the Marine Corps relies on the other services and rely on us across a network of interdependencies.

“A growing percentage of those serving in uniform have a close relative who also served (or is currently serving),” Berger wrote. “In other words, those who are most familiar with the military are most likely to enlist.”

Gen. David Berger
(Source: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr)

Despite the Marine Corps reaching its Fiscal Year 2022 recruiting goals, Berger and other military leaders have expressed concern that the branches will not continue to meet those goals.

The Navy recently raised the age limit for new recruits to increase the eligibility pool. In addition, the sea service is offering enlistment bonuses, a strategy that the Army and Air Force also employ.

According to Berger, the more difficult recruitment environment in the United States can be partly explained by the low unemployment rate, but it deserves less credit than it has been given.

“Yet, some of our deepest challenges are chronic, indicating that the strength of the economy may be less critical than commonly thought,” Berger wrote. “For example, the Marine Corps has struggled—in good economic times and bad—to produce and retain an adequate number of pilots, even for the newest, most modern aircraft.”

According to Rear Adm. Robert Besal, who works with the Mission Readiness advocacy group, the Commandant’s article is correct in his assessment that the pool of eligible candidates is shrinking. According to recent statistics, 77 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 21 are ineligible to serve in the military, Besal said.

According to Besal, one of the leading health concerns is childhood obesity, which accounts for 30 percent of those who are ineligible. In addition, drug abuse and prior criminal activity are the three most common reasons for ineligibility and failure to pass entrance exams.

Besal said Mission Readiness is working to fix the eligibility pool by obtaining funding for educational and nutrition programs, but that requires getting congressional and other legislative officials to think long-term.

Children as young as three years old should be included in programs to help prevent childhood obesity and failure to pass entrance exams, Besal said. However, the payoff will only occur for 15 years when that child becomes eligible for service.

There are, however, limited options right now to address the ineligibility issue, Berger wrote. Mission Readiness looks at what can be done for the future.

Military leaders have few levers to pull to increase the number of Americans eligible for service, and the most immediate one—lowering standards—is not one that military leaders or the majority of Americans want,” he wrote. “To effect permanent change, we must understand and address the decline in the desire to serve.”

While the economy may pose a challenge to recruiting, it is a cyclical factor, a senior RAND economist told USNI News.

Historically, recruitment becomes difficult when employment is low, she said in an interview on November 2. However, she said, it’s all speculation at this point whether this is the case for the military.

“I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” Asch said. “I think it’s a matter of understanding the array of factors that could be having an effect and then teasing out their relative importance and for what particular groups, under what circumstances.”

Even when the economy is stronger, recruiting is still difficult, suggesting other reasons are recruiting is difficult.

Besal also identified the lack of military trust as a factor.

According to Besal, there have been several blunders on the part of the active force, one individual or a group, or things that should not have occurred. That’s why straightening this up is crucial inside the service. People will be less inclined to pay attention to you when you make this request if you have more blunders on the part of the active force.

There is a lack of trust in the military due to people’s inaccurate perceptions of it. For example, people may not know the difference between the military branches or the significance of being a noncommissioned officer.

“People have a lot of ignorance, and that’s increased,” she said.

Those who enlist have positive values associated with the military, whereas those who do not enroll have the same level of ignorance.

The new issue of trust in the military is problematic, but more research is needed.

The family connection to the services is also shrinking. However, according to Berger, the trend of people with military experience serving in uniform is growing, indicating that those most familiar with the military are most likely to enlist.

Family connections play a role in recruiting. However, this may damage the military, as the Military Family Advisory Network’s most recent survey discovered that military members are increasingly less likely to suggest an army profession to a family member.

The Military Family Advisory Network reported a decline of 11 percent between 2019 and 2021 in family members who would recommend service.

According to the Military Family Advocacy Network’s annual survey in 2019, 74.5 percent of military participants said they would recommend military service to family members. In 2021, 62.9 percent said they would recommend military service to family members, a drop from 74.5 percent in 2019.

Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network, said the drop in recruitment is due to low pay, leadership issues, family-unfriendly moves, and veterans’ benefits that no longer outweigh the disadvantages of service.

Family connections may not be sufficient to maintain a sufficiently large military recruiting pool, Berger says, and the military might not be doing enough to reach out to those unfamiliar with it.

“Definitely you’re pulling from a smaller pool, because when you had the draft, you know, everyone had the requirement of service,” Razsadin said. “And so these are people who are choosing to make the sacrifices, they’re choosing to serve. And so, of course, it’s gonna be a different percentage than if you had the draft and mandatory service requirements.”

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