The Army's Not Coming Up Short

NPR reported last month that, for the first time in five years, the U.S. Army had more than met its recruiting goals.

This happens every time unemployment rises, and it should be absolutely no surprise. People choose military service after high school partly out of a desire to serve the country; but there is strong evidence that incentives matter.

Higher pay increases the supply of enlistees, and so does a reduced opportunity cost — the value of potential enlistees’ time in other activities. Higher unemployment is especially heavily concentrated among young workers; the alternatives for high-school graduates in a recession are reduced, and the military becomes a more attractive option.

So I would be happy to bet that the Army will have even less trouble meeting enlistment goals in 2009, provided its demand for enlistees does not increase too much.

Other supply behavior is countercyclical too — and typically includes enrollment in economics courses. So the recession should increase the demand for teachers of intro economics, like me. An ill wind blows a bit of good!

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  1. griff says:

    I read today recruits applying to the Spanish army are also increasing greatly in number as Spanish unemployment rises, with three quarters of applicants being turned away (annoyingly I can’t find link!).

    Spain doesn’t have large/active overseas military deployments, so maybe this provides supporting evidence for straight ‘economic’ effect ???

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  2. Jason B says:

    As far as meeting the goals increasing costs of running the Army, I would say that’s not really a factor. Budgets for personnel, training, and others should be driven in part by what the recruiting goals are. Money not spent on a budget line is rarely put back in the Treasury, instead it finds its way to a more pressing need.

    Being able to meet the goals more easily may mean reducing the budget for recruiting itself, which is more expensive the futher they get below the goals. Witness the US Army and National Guard sponsoring two NASCAR Cup driver.

    jeffreytg has a good point. A disproportionate amount of the recruits will come from areas with high unemployment.

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  3. Kolby Kleiman says:

    I agree with this. article. If the recession and depression is still a huge problem within the next few years i have no doubt that the # of people recruited and enlisting into the army will greatly increase thus turning the US Army into an even stronger military and continue the US’s image as the hegomonic country of the West.

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