Army Recruitment and Enlistment Propensity

In discussing the Army’s latest recruitment shortfalls, Kevin Drum highlights the following item from the Washington Post:

Army Aims to Catch Up on Recruits in Summer

Violent, long deployments to Iraq and a sound job market at home have combined to reduce what the Army calls the “propensity to enlist” — the percentage of young Americans willing to consider Army service — which dropped from 11 percent last year to about 7 percent this year.

Enlistment propensity has declined for at least the past quarter-century. Its causes are complex and multifaceted, ranging from the increasing returns of college education to the population growth of Latinos, who generally struggle to meet basic recruitment guidelines despite high interest in the armed forces. But, certainly, the Iraq War is a significant concern, as the “U.S. Military Image Study” suggests. Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of youth who cite the fear of death, injury, or combat participation upon forgoing enlistment has substantially risen.

It just so happens that I examined this very issue in my “spring exercise” project. Here is a section that I prepared for a briefing book to Professor John White, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Logistics. James can probably tell you more about it than I can (the topic was assigned to all first-year graduate students regardless of policy expertise), but I thought that I’d share it anyway.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. For people to openly stop recruiting on campuses and other venues just makes the draft a more likely scenario. The government should actively look into campuses that openly defy recruitment especially if they get government funding.

    Your thoughts?

  2. mike says:

    The draft issue is a dead issue; it simply will not happen. The Army will continue to throw more and more money at recruits in the form of signing bonuses in the short term and do a lot of praying for hte long term. The politiicans will not do anything big until the 2008 election which will be the “who will save the army” aka “bring’em home” election. This is just my prediction.
    No one wants to admit that we have been attempting to fight a war on terror w/o being on a war footing. The 30,000 troop increase should have been done at day 1. Folks should have listened to the experts like Shinsheki also rather than surrounding themselves w/ yes-men.

  3. Just Me says:

    I don’t see a draft as likely either. It would be political suicide for one thing, and I don’t think the army would be better for it.

    What I do see is the army loosening some of its base level requirements for enlistment-maybe demand a lower score on the ASVAB than currently required, or loosening the requirement that recruits have a high school diploma and accept instead those with GED’s alone. Stuff like that.

  4. mike says:

    the army already accepts those w/ a GED – as far as lowering the ASVAB, I would hate to see who they get then – do you know what score it takes to be a trucker?
    things will get worse before they get better. I think the 1st thing that needs to go is the 8 yr total commitment whether it be a 18 month active w/ 6.5 yrs in the IRR or 4 active 4 in the IRR – just get rid of the IRR possibility in the short term (only 3 or 4 active yrs required period) and I think this would attract a lot of folks – if you look at the number of folks pulled off the IRR list, it is very small but the thought of 8 yrs to an 18 yr old is huge considering 8 yrs ago they were 10. there is no real damage if for the folks worried about the 8 yr hitch that they eliminate it for those particular folks – hell, you can always try a draft or throw more money in later.

  5. Just Me says:

    the army already accepts those w/ a GED

    Not exactly.

    The Army is not accepting people with a GED in most areas of the country, however, the Army reserves the right to waive certain disqualifications and allow enlistment if deemed in the best interest of the individual and the service. If you will only need a waiver for the GED, it is highly likely that you will be accepted. Please note that when the Army did accept a GED, they were required to score at least 50 on the ASVAB.

    There are some drawbacks to enlisting with a GED, such as not being eligible for bonuses. If you have 15 college credit hours under your belt, you will be eligible for bonuses. Also, upon reaching 30 college semester hours, no waiver is needed for the GED.

    Basically, the Army demands a higher level of education for its enlistees than it used to, it can though go back to the old standards (and they may be doing that now).

    There are also other areas they could adjust requirements on-they could lift restrictions on homosexuals serving in the military, they could change some of the issues that medically disqualify you, there are certainly standards that they can adjust-some may not make the army better (ie overly lowering education standards), but the army is probably right now turning some young men and women away who want to enlist but don’t meet the requirements.

  6. legion says:

    Six months ago, I would have discarded the idea of a draft out of hand too, but I’m beginning to reconsider the likelihood…

    Let’s look at the situation – we still have over 150K there, right? We’re in the process of training Iraqis to take over from us, but I have no confidence in anyone’s estimates (left or right) about when that might happen in large numbers – I really don’t think anybody knows. Basically, we have no reliable estimate of when current troop requirements will go down.

    There’s also an additional factor that’s just coming back into public conciousness with the report the other day about Marines vs. contractors… Does anybody have a good estimate of the number of contractors/mercs/whatever doing jobs that would otherwise have to be done by our troops? It doesn’t take a degree in economics to know that if the security situation gets worse, the costs for those contractors goes up. And you eventually reach a point where you just can’t pay people to do those jobs anymore, you have to order troops to do them. It hasn’t happened yet, but the insurgency is already targeting ‘softer’ targets, and if they drive the private sector types out of providing security, delivering basic commodities, etc, then there will be a huge spike in ‘boots on the ground’ required to keep basic mission capabilities.

    Instead of just knee-jerking that a draft is political suicide, I think we should look at what issues would _force_ a draft, regardless of the political cost, and then see how close we are to those levels…

  7. McGehee says:

    I don’t think “issues” would force a draft. Anything that might go that way would more likely to lead to political pressure to reduce overseas deployments. As a general rule historically, Americans prefer not to be involved militarily overseas. They’ll support doing so under pressing conditions — world war, Cold War, or in consequence to large-scale terrorist attack — but as soon as enough people perceive the threat to be less than the cost of meeting it, they vote dove rather than hawk.

    That’s why the Democrats have been chanting “quagmire” (and “draft” for that matter) over and over for the last few years. Unfortunately for them, most Americans see the threat as greater, or the cost smaller (or both), than the Dems make it out to be.

    Things could change, but reviving the draft is a lot less likely than a pullback, in my opinion — and I don’t anticipate “issues” leading to a popular call for a pullback any time real soon.