Economy's down, enlistments are up

Military personnel raise their hands during a naturalization ceremony for the military in October at Pope Air Force Base, N.C.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Investment banking might have its downsides as career these days as the layoffs mount. But at least it's reasonably safe -- in a physical sense. Military service, on the other hand, is dangerous. But it's a job. The Pentagon's seeing some of its best recruiting figures in years as the economy heads south. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


JEFF TYLER: A few years ago, when military recruiters struggled to meet enlistment goals, the Pentagon relaxed some requirements and sweetened the pot financially, increasing bonuses for signing up and staying in the military.

National security analyst Mackenzie Eaglen is with the Heritage Foundation.

MACKENZIE EAGLEN: Even the pay to deploy overseas is quite considerable. So there is no doubt that there is a direct correlation between a downturn in the civilian economy and a relationship to recruiting increasing for the military.

2008 has been good for recruiters. All branches met their enlistment goals. And except for the Air Force, the number of folks re-enlisting is also up.

RICK Jahnkow: So whenever unemployment is high, recruiters have a much easier time meeting their monthly quotas.

That's Rick Jahnkow with the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities. He tries to present young people with financial alternatives to joining the military.

Jahnkow: I think that for most young people who are considering enlistment, it really is the bread-and-butter issues that's motivating them.

That's also an issue for those considering leaving the military. For one thing, those lucrative contracting jobs don't have a bright future.

Again, Mackenzie Eaglen.

Eaglen: Obama as a candidate specifically campaigned on one point, noting that he would reduce the U.S. military's reliance upon contractors in combat.

With an estimated 100,000 contractors working in Iraq alongside American soldiers, those jobs won't disappear overnight. But no matter how much contractors pay, they can't hold a candle to the military in terms of job security.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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