WASHINGTON — The economic downturn could make it easier to attract new recruits to the military, Defense officials said Friday as they announced that the Pentagon had met its 2008 recruiting goals.
Economic uncertainty and a declining job market are likely to make potential recruits and their parents more receptive to a pitch from the military, said David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.
"We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society," Chu said. "That is a situation where more people are willing to give us a chance."
Historically, military recruiting has been easier in periods of a weak economy and dim job prospects. If the recent financial turmoil translates into a deep recession and job losses, more high school graduates may consider military service, officials said Friday.
Chu said the military had no plans to adjust its pitch to potential recruits or to set higher enlistment goals.
Recruiters have struggled in recent years as wartime tours became lengthy, dangerous and frequent, and as parents and teachers steered young people away from the military.
But the active-duty and reserve forces met or exceeded their 12-month goals this year. In all, 185,000 people joined the active-duty military and 140,000 signed up for the reserves, the most since 2003.
This increase apparently came not because of the economy, but because causalities declined in Iraq and the Pentagon announced that combat tours would be reduced from 15 months to a year. It also followed efforts to beef up recruiting by offering bonuses and providing waivers to recruits who do not meet standards.
Officials said the improving recruitment and the declining economy were unlikely to result in a reduction in waivers, which are issued for health issues, criminal convictions, drug use and other reasons.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, head of the Army's Recruiting Command, said the Army this year issued 372 waivers for felony convictions, down from 511 in 2007.
Bostick also said that the military was improving the percentage of high school graduates it enlisted. The Army has a goal of ensuring that 90% of recruits have high school diplomas. In 2008, 83% of active-duty recruits had graduated from high school, up from 79% the year before.
A recruit's acknowledgment of past drug use is a major reason for waivers, Chu said. But he said that the declining economy was not likely to reduce teen drug experimentation.