Attrition: How Recessions Improve The Military


January 11, 2009:  European, as well as American, military recruiters are benefitting from the current recession. The Spanish military recently reported setting new recruiting records, mostly as a result of rising unemployment rates. British, and other European recruiters are reporting similar results. While the U.S. military has met its recruiting goals since September 11, 2001, and have even been able to expand a bit, they had to lower standards a bit. The biggest problem recruiters had was not with anti-war activists (who get the most attention) but a booming economy. Since most (over 80 percent) of the jobs in the army have nothing to do with combat, recruiters are basically competing with the civilian job market. For the educated, energetic young people the army is seeking, there are often lots good jobs out there that don't require extended visits to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recruiters have used this situation to raise standards. More education, better physical condition and higher scores on qualification tests are now demanded. North American and (most) European armies are now all volunteer, and recruiters are using the current recession as an opportunity to eliminate personnel deficits and improve troop quality. The recession is expected to be over in a year or two, and then the recruiters will have to scramble again. But the troops they can bring in before then will result in a qualitative and quantitative increase in military capability that will last for years. Many of the high quality recruits, who would not have considered a military career otherwise, or even a single four year enlistment, will find that they like the military life, and decide to make a career of it. That's a very long term benefit from a short term economic event.