Economy, War and Military RecruitingJUNE 21, 2008
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All branches of the U.S. Armed Forces -- with the exception of the Army National Guard -- have been either meeting or exceeding their monthly recruiting goals. With so much debate about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going, it's a wonder that so many people are enlisting.
Professor Cindy Williams teaches political science at MIT and has studied military recruiting trends. She says there is more to the numbers than people think:
Bill Radke: How is recruitment going today for armed services?
Cindy Williams: Well, recruitment is going very well for all of the services. The Army is the one exception -- and there, the Army is actually making its numbers. It's getting the number of people that it's trying to bring in. But it's fallen off sharply since the Iraq War started in the quality of the troops that it's able to bring in. About last fiscal year, the Army was only able to bring in 79 percent of its recruits who had graduated from high school.
Radke: What kind of person is joining the military these days?
Williams: Well, one of the interesting things that's been going on is that since about 1994, Hispanics have made up a larger and larger fraction of the military, and particularly of the Army. Probably the biggest change since the Iraq War began is the drop-off in the participation by African Americans in the military, and in particularly in the Army.
Why is that?
It looks as though a lot of the reason has to do with a drop-off in parental support for black young people joining the Army. And that a lot of that drop-off in parental support can be attributed to the fact that the war is very unpopular among African Americans in this country, and much more unpopular among African Americans than it is among whites.
How have the services changed the way they advertise themselves to young people?
Well, I think the biggest thing that's going on right now is how much they're advertising to parents rather than to young people. The Army has this big campaign right now that's "You made them strong, we'll make them Army strong." This is targeted directly at the parents. The reason they're doing that is that parental support across the board, across America for... all of the services has declined in recent years.
What do you think is likely to affect military recruitment the most in the next year or so?
There are really two big players. One is what goes on in Iraq -- if we see a resurgence of violence... it will put a big damper on recruitment. The other thing, the other big player, is the economy. If the economy continues to go south, if unemployment rates rise, I think that will be a boost for recruiting that may be able to offset some of the drain on recruiting that's going to come if there is resurgence of violence in Iraq.
I noticed you didn't mention the November election.
The November election... I'm not sure. You know, if the new president decides that we're out of Iraq, I think that would be enormous boost to Army recruiting. But I think short of getting out of the war, this is going to continue to drain recruiting. And the only way to offset it is through the problems that we're having with the economy.
Dr. Cindy Williams of MIT... Thank you so much.
Thank you, pleasure.
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