Strong US economy hurting Army recruitment, military officials say

The downside of a booming U.S. job market: It can hurt the U.S. Army's recruitment efforts.

The Army said last week that it will not meet its goal of recruiting 80,000 active-duty soldiers this year and has officially lowered that goal to 76,500.

So far this year the U.S. military branch has brought in just 28,000 new soldiers, Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey said Friday.

Yet retaining current soldiers has been more successful this year than in the past, with 86 percent staying on, he said, compared with 81 percent in previous years.

The struggle to meet this year's higher recruiting numbers was partially attributed to the favorable U.S. economy and increased competition from private-sector employers, military officials said.

Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Donald Trump signed in December, will likely spark stronger economic growth than previously estimated.

Maj. Gen. Jeff Snow, head of the Army's recruiting command, predicted late last year that the higher enlistment goal would be difficult to meet. Meeting the increased mission this year, Snow said, could force the Army to take in more recruits who would require waivers for marijuana use, low test scores or other more basic health issues.

Military leaders have increasingly warned of recruitment challenges, noting that a strong economy and the declining quality of recruits has steadily shrunk the number of young people considered eligible.

Meanwhile, Defense Department officials have warned that the American public is increasingly disconnected from the military, despite 16 years of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and military actions in other locations. They say that misconceptions exist about serving in the armed forces, and most people don’t personally know any service members.

This time of year is usually the toughest for military recruiters, since this is the period when high school seniors start getting acceptance letters from colleges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.