Recession, unemployment spur increase in military recruitment

Just a few years after the some branches of the military lowered requirements to meet recruitment goals, there's now a surge of better-educated recruits who have struggled to find work in down economy.

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That's keeping military recruiters like U.S. Army Capt. Rusty Mason very busy.

"In the past year," Mason says he's seen a "conservative 25 percent increase" in the number of college grads becoming recruits in Northern Virginia, and across the country.

Brandon Branch graduated in May and, after a frustrating private-sector job search, signed up for the Army -- despite the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I would say you're lucky if you get an interview," Branch lamented. "I put in about 500 resumes, and TSA was about the only one I got a call from."
Another fellow job seeker, Malcolm Leigh, added, "I sent about 100 (résumés), you get four or five interviews -- it's really tough out there."

Last year the number of college grads signing up for the military jumped nearly 17 percent from 2008. Among the perks the Army offers: free health care and housing, something the private sector probably cannot match.

Beth Asch, a senior economist with the Rand Corporation and an expert in military recruiting, has a simple explanation: "I think the spike is due to the economy," she told ABC 7's Kris Van Cleave in an interview via Skype. "We're seeing people who otherwise would get good job in the civilian labor market finding that's not so possible and looking to the military."

Wesley Cho has a master's degree, but still struggled to find a job. Soon he'll be a United States Marine.

"One nice thing about military is it's relatively secure, has good benefits, and a pretty solid career choice," Cho said.

The Pentagon says so far this year, 99 percent of recruits have at least a high school diploma -- the goal is 90 percent.

What's particularly striking about the trend, Van Cleave notes, is the number of the college graduates who are opting to enlist and not go to Officer Candidate School, which traditionally has been more common among those with college degrees.

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