Demographics and the American Military at the End of the Twentieth Century
Mark J. Eitelberg and Stephen L Mehay
For almost twenty years the United States has been able to sustain a 3- million-member military, two-thirds in active-duty status, without the aid of compulsory service. This is a remarkable accomplishment by any measure, but it has not come easily or cheaply. Indeed, in 1976 Congress decided to take away GI Bill benefits for new recruits at a time when military pay was eroding, the civilian job market for young men was improving, and the enlistment propensity of prospective volunteers was falling. By 1979, the combined effect of these and other influences had placed the all-volunteer force on the brink of disaster: recruiters missed their goals, personnel attrition seemed uncontrollable, troop morale waned along with public confidence in the military, reports of disciplinary problems and substandard performance were widespread, and there were repeated charges that the force was hollow. Around the same time, it was learned that the military's method for scoring the enlistment test had been seriously flawed since 1976--and, as a result, the test scores of Army recruits had bottomed out, descending even lower than the scores of men examined during the period of heavy mobilization for World War II. 1 This situation prompted Congress to set ceilings on the proportion of lower-aptitude recruits, spurred the creation of several government advisory panels and independent study groups, and inspired numerous recommendations to restore the draft.
The greatest fear of defense officials at the time centered on the projected demographic depression, or the declining population of military-age youth, which was forecasted to fall by 25 percent by the mid-1990s (see Table 5.1). If recruiting for the armed services suffered when the supply of available manpower peaked in 1979, many asked, what would happen when the supply began to wither away? The answer to this question, as it turned out, was that recruiting improved with each passing year, and measures of personnel quality soared from an all-time low to unprecedented heights.