Skip to comments.In Weak Economy, College Grads 'Surge' Into Military (NPR)
Posted on 08/18/2012 5:30:37 PM PDT by Drango
The weak economy is helping to drive thousands more college graduates into the U.S. military.
Since the recession began in 2007, there's been a steady increase in the number of college graduates joining the armed forces. The Navy and Army have seen the biggest jumps. About 60 percent more college grads joined the Navy last year than in 2007.
For some of them, it's a job some would never have imagined for themselves just a few years ago.
Not 'What I Thought I'd Be Doing'
Louis Lam fits that bill. He's your typical good college student. He's on the dean's list at the University of Maryland, where he studies electrical engineering. He's active in campus organizations. To save money, he lives at home. He even helps his mom make dinner.
"Generally I would just get the dishes and stuff ready," Lam says as his mother drips sauce onto meat sizzling in a skillet.
OK, maybe he's not helping with the actual cooking. Mom jokes there's a reason for that.
"He's not very good," Mydung Lam laughs. But Lam is a great son, she says. When his parents Tuy (center) and Mydung (right) Lam lost their jobs, electrical engineering major Louis Lam enlisted in the Navy. Enlarge Michael Tomsic/NPR
When his parents Tuy (center) and Mydung (right) Lam lost their jobs, electrical engineering major Louis Lam enlisted in the Navy.
And that son's plans have changed drastically since he got to college.
"What I thought that I'd be doing, going into college as an electrical engineer," Lam says, "I thought that I'd be working with gadgets, making robotic things, [tinkering with] groundbreaking technology."
The idea of joining the military had never even crossed his mind, Lam says. But that was before both his parents lost their jobs. Unemployment benefits held them over for a while, but they ran out in April.
"I was like, I really need to get this job as soon as possible," Lam says. "Otherwise, we might lose the house. We might have to sell some stuff."
He saw his college friends struggling to find jobs or internships and says his family couldn't afford for him to go through that.
Instead, he turned to the military. As the U.S. has struggled to recover from the worst recession since World War II, tens of thousands of other college students and graduates have made a similar choice.
Bad Economy Drives Recruitment
"When the economy worsens, as it has in recent years, we certainly see a surge in the number of young people who are highly qualified, who want to join the military," says Beth Asch, who researches military recruitment for the RAND Corp. It has studied U.S. military recruitment for more than 40 years.
Asch says the surge in college graduates looks especially large this time around because of just how far the economy fell.
"Since the mid-2000s, the unemployment rate has essentially doubled," she says. And since then, the Army and Navy have seen a more than 50 percent rise in recruits with college degrees, according to their latest numbers.
Asch says college graduates make up a relatively small portion of total recruits. But as long as the economy stays weak, their numbers will go up.
Part of the reason is that it always pays to have a job with Uncle Sam.
"In order to sustain a volunteer force with high-quality people, the military finds it has to pay people more than they would get in the civilian world," Asch says.
"That gap has actually increased in recent years, in part because of the continuing rise of military pay and partly because the economy has stagnated, and so civilian pay has stagnated as well."
More People Than Positions
At a naval-recruiting station near the University of Maryland, Lt. Mary Neal says it's almost easy right now for military recruiters.
"We have more people coming than we have positions for," she says. "That's just how busy we are. It's sad when we actually have to tell them, 'Sorry, we've already met goal for this year.' "
Neal says almost all the people being turned away have college degrees. She says the perks of a military job are especially appealing right now good pay, free health care, a tax-free housing allowance and a pay raise every year.
Another recruiter at Neal's station pitched all that to Louis Lam before his parents' unemployment benefits ran out. He signed up and is in for five years.
Working On Ships From Home
Lam says the recruiter also said he could stay close to home. He'll use his engineering background to work on nuclear reactors on submarines and ships, and he can do that from the D.C. area.
While he finishes college this year, Lam says, the Navy will pay him about $50,000.
"That specifically was very important to me because of our financial situation," he says. "I definitely wanted to say, 'Hey, is this what I'm going to be making? And if it is, then this is exactly what I need right now.' "
Lam says the checks started coming a few months ago, and he's been spending most of them on his parents' mortgage and his student loans. For now, he's giving up the goal he had before he got to college: a career in the private sector with a big-name company.
Lam says he's OK with that. There's a much better payout for helping his family and serving his country.
To the liberal a$$wipes at NPR. Serving in the military is an honor. It is not settling, second best, or second rate.
Many of them will want to go straight into Officer Candidate School (OCS) or Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) and find that just having a degree is not an automatic ticket into either one and that once in, it ain’t hackey-sack at the student union. I salute them for making the right choice, of course.
I would clean the bathrooms at Grand Central Station with my tongue before I would work at NPR.
Have you thought...perhaps they are gays and girls?
The twits at NPR have an agenda and it includes being disrespectful to our military, our defenders of our nation and of our Constitution.
It may be true that enlistments and re enlistments are up, but it just as well could be from a resurgence of patriotism among our younger citizens. After all, those in and deployed have shown commitment and excellence in their service. If looking for a soft place to eat and sleep was the first objective, those who are serving certainly have shown they are sharp and on top as to duty in very hard and dangerous places.
Complete B.S. My income more than doubled when I retired from the military, doing exactly the same kind of stuff I was doing in the service.
I gave up easily 50% of my earning power for 21 years to serve.
Thanks Drango. I’m sure NPR mentioned that the reason for this is the Obama Recession. /s
I only hope it sticks. Though from what I’ve seen and heard from the military lately - especially from the top down - has been mainly disheartening.
And though I feel I’m as tolerant as more and more Americans are forced by their government to be these days, I’ve seen several examples of the uniform of my country being disrespected by homosexuals, and to quote the Corporal-Captain episode from MASH: “I don’t like it. No sir, I don’t like it at all!”
NPR just can’t understand why an educated elitist would choose to join the military rather than huddle in the rain with the drug infested Occupy Wall Street Crowd. Losers.
That's probably going to depend upon what you were doing. My husband got out of the Navy after about 9 years and took a pay cut to do it. They were advancing very few people in his rate so he was going to be stuck, paywise, for awhile.
It took us a couple of years to get back to even and within another year or so, he was ahead of the game.
Just hoping that some of them have to nonsense of college knocked out of them and learn the realities of this world..
I remember when it was the case some guys had a choice of jail or the military. That's not exactly the type of person I'd want in my foxhole.
Same for these people. "Can't find a job? Join the military so you don't starve."
You’re right. It’s hard to see how an EE could make more as an enlisted man than in the private sector - even after going through OTC. Either he really screwed up in school, or he faces too much compitition from immigrant visas.
I guess ya had to be there... We had a few of those in our outfit. They turned out to be fine soldiers who did their duty, and we were happy to have them with us.
They make it sound like welfare.
Actually, right now is a golden opportunity to create an offshore corporate army, probably in the Caribbean, that would save the US a huge amount of money performing low- or no-intensity missions that are prohibitively expensive for our military to do.
That is, “guard duty” and “peacekeeping” missions that run on for years of nothing happening. Using such a corporate army could cost just a fraction of using our high tech, top of the line real army, and would also prevent the loss of a lot of readiness, which happens to our military during such mundane activities.
The officers of this corporate army would be US officers, and their transport and logistics would also be provided by the US military, which keeps them on a tight leash. However, as contractors, if the US government wanted them to do things that were dangerous or intolerable, they could just say no.
In those cases, I stand corrected.