The U.S. Armed Forces is Declining
Despite its status as the world’s most powerful and well-funded military, the U.S. military has been struggling to recruit new service members in recent years.
So why is this happening? The U.S. military is no longer receiving the number of recruits it needs to stay at an optimal level of service, with data from a study conducted by the Department of Defense finding that only 77 percent of the military’s recruiting goals were met in 2017.
While the Department of Defense has sought to combat this by offering various incentives such as tuition assistance, generous salary packages, and beneficial housing options, recruitment efforts have not been able to significantly boost enlistment rates. As a result, military personnel are stretched thin, posing a challenge for U.S. military readiness and operations worldwide.
This decrease in recruitment has been caused by several factors, such as the decreased need for military personnel in modern times due to technological advances and other economic factors like better job opportunities outside of military service. The decrease in recruitment has caused a military workforce shortage, with the U.S. military eventually having to lower its recruitment standards and increase its education incentives to attract more recruits.
Empire Resume will explain why the U.S. armed forces enrollment is declining, including what the military is doing about it.
Unfit for Service
Rising costs of military personnel, such as salary and healthcare, have been seen as a significant factor in the decreased recruitment numbers. Due to these factors, it has become increasingly difficult for the U.S. military to sustain its current size and strength, and the government is continuing efforts to encourage more American youth to enlist in military service.
Changes to the bonuses and educational benefits offered by the U.S. military also play a role in this struggle to recruit, as they are no longer enough to incentivize young men and women into joining the military when other, more attractive options are available on the labor market.
These changes make the military less appealing compared to the other options available in the labor market, leaving it with fewer candidates interested in enlisting. This has created a difficult challenge for the U.S military when it comes to recruiting new members and maintaining its strong presence.
In 2022, with just over a month left in the fiscal year, The Army expected to reach only 52% of its recruiting goal. The Army is the largest military service, and it was expecting a shortfall in recruits of up to 15,000 servicemembers. The Air Force, Marines, and Navy expected to meet their recruitment targets in 2022; they described the year as their most challenging recruiting-wise since the end of the military draft in 1973.
The low unemployment rate is one reason for the recruitment challenges, but there are other, more complex problems. Approximately 71% of young Americans are estimated to be unfit for military service, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The main reasons for this are education deficits, obesity, drug abuse, and criminal records. The Army has started programs to address this problem, such as offering pre-basic training camps that improve physical fitness and boost scores on the Armed Services Vocational Battery qualification test.
A Boost in Bonuses
Young people unfit for military service are just one part of the problem. Many youngsters just aren’t as interested in it nowadays. The military is doing more to make service more appealing. The Army and Navy have relaxed rules for tattoos, allowing for visible tattoos on recruits that wasn’t previously permitted. For a brief time, the Army even removed the requirement that recruits have a high school diploma, though they quickly rescinded that change.
Potential recruits are less interested in healthcare plans, which they can get from many employers in the job market. They are somewhat interested in educational benefits, but the military is in a competitive environment where potential recruits can find the same benefits at a place like Starbucks.
To help recruit, the military is offering more attractive sign-up bonuses for those willing to ship out on short notice. The Air Force twice increased the money for new recruits for the first time in a decade. The Air Force’s quick-ship bonus of $8,000 has been used 234 times.
The Navy also recently announced it will pay off up to $65,000 of student debt for new recruits, even those who have prior Navy service or service in another branch. Combining that with the quick-ship bonus, a Navy recruit could earn about $115,000 in enlistment incentives.
A Servicemember Shortfall
The armed forces face an uphill recruiting climb even with the bonus boost. Generation Z isn’t as interested in serving in the military primarily because of a misconception of what it means. Surveys show that for the first time in American history, most youth (52%) have never considered the military as an option for them.
Many youths believe military service will harm them, leaving them with psychological problems or challenges adjusting to civilian life. Up to 20% of troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD yearly, compared to about 6% of the U.S. population.
This is a concern but largely a misconception. Many who serve in the military report positive experiences, ending up with more education, higher incomes, and greater levels of civic engagement than those who don’t serve.
Nevertheless, the armed forces have their work cut out for finding new recruits. The Army is expected to finish 2022 with about 466,000 active-duty soldiers, which is 10,000 people below their targets. The military projects that active-duty numbers will fall up to 452,000 by the end of the fiscal year 2023.
Serving in the military is a life-changing and positive experience, setting young Americans on a path to success. But more American youth nowadays are shying away from it. The U.S. armed forces will have to devise new ways to get young people interested in military service, or the country will face the consequences of a dwindling force of active-duty military members.
Stay tuned to Empire Resume’s blog for more helpful insights on military-to-civilian transitioning, including articles such as 7 Differences Between Military and Civilian Life, Working on a Utah Military Base, and Best Jobs for Veterans.
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Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has extensive experience writing resumes for professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a B.A. in Communications from The Ohio State University, an M.S. in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a Ph.D. in Finance.