Why has America’s military recruitment fallen?
AAMERICAN ARMY struggling to sign soldiers. Hiring in fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, is likely to be the worst since the draft ended in 1973. The military brought in about 45,000 people; he aimed for 60,000. Christine Wormuth, the Secretary of the Army, has warned that if there is no change, members of the National Guard and the Army Reserve must be sent to active duty. It might also be necessary, she said, for the army to “trim [its] force structure”, which could mean closing units. Air force and navy recruiting campaigns improved this year, but in part because those services recruited from a pool of “delayed entry” soldiers who had signed up already. Nevertheless, they, too, missed targets. What’s up?
The fallout from covid-19 is a big part of the problem. Lockdowns reduced eligibility by lowering academic achievement and contributing to higher rates of obesity and mental illness. They also severely restricted face-to-face recruitment, most importantly in schools. Katherine Kuzminski, an expert on the armed forces and society at CNAS, a think tank in Washington, says that men who completed school online, and spent less time with peers, are more likely to delay major life decisions, including going to college or getting married. Brian McGovern, deputy director of public affairs at the military’s recruiting command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, says there is a growing “disconnection from society” caused by the pandemic. has hindered recruitment: the proportion of eligible Americans who meet enrollment requirements has fallen from 29% in recent years to just 23%.
Although the drop is significant, these numbers emphasize that even before the pandemic, only a small portion of Americans were eligible according to the military criteria. Recruits must be physically fit, pass a science, maths and language test, and be considered “in good moral standing”, meaning they have not committed a felony and are not in serious trouble with drugs or alcohol. In some cases these rules have not adopted changes in the law. Marijuana, for example, is now illegal in all circumstances in only four states, by one count. But the military still considers marijuana use disallowed (although retired people may be allowed to do so).
In addition to this, fewer Americans want to register these days. The military says the “likely to serve” (those who say they definitely or probably will) has dropped to 9% among eligible citizens, the lowest since 2007 when anti-American violence in Iraq was at its peak. It cannot have helped with America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. And there is no polarization of politics. On the left, a growing number claim that America is an imperial power with a backward military that promotes a belief in white supremacy. Others, on the right, believe that the armed forces are surrendering. This two-pronged attack is having a big impact on hiring, says Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. The military’s mandatory covid vaccination policy could deter some recruits; more than a third of Americans aged 18 to 24 are not fully vaccinated against the virus.
With America’s job market booming, the military faces stiff competition from companies that have raised wages and offered larger signing bonuses to attract candidates. It is responding by increasing outreach in schools and offering incentives to new hires, including a choice of first duty position and bonuses of up to $35,000 for those who can send them away. within 45 days. It has relaxed policies on tattoos. In June they said employers who could exit quickly would be eligible to do so without a high school diploma – although it quickly backtracked on that. As for whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will increase hiring, which rose sharply after 9/11, Ms. Eaglen believes that would be unlikely. The threat to America, she says, had to be more direct. ■