In a recession, USarmed forces have something to sell: jobs for youths

In Youngstown, Ohio, where unemplyment is at the fourth-highest level for any city in the nation, an Army ad in the local paper reads: "We've got steady jobs. Jobs in construction, transportation, law enforcement, communications, aviation, electronics . . . jobs you can get without experience. . . ."m

For increasing numbers of young men and women who have sweated out the summer looking for good jobs that do not seem to exist, this kind of offer is hard to pass up.

With youth unemployment at near record levels, the armed services say more and more recruits are signing up, just as they did during the last recession.

In the Youngstown area, for example, Army enlistments this year have increased 50 percent over the same period last year, from 300 last year to 450 this year.

Among the new recruits is Tracy Bowser, a 17-year-old high school graduate from Niles, Ohio, located just outside Youngstown.

"There are just no jobs in Ohio -- no good ones," he said before leaving for boot camp this week. "So I decided to sign up to get a job and training. Three of my friends are doing the same thing."

With the exception of the Marine Corps, all the services are making or exceeding their enlistment quotas this year after falling behind last year. One US Navy official says "now we can be more selective" in signing recruits.

Overall, the armed services have recruited a total of 230,800 people from last Oct. 1 through May this year. In the same period last year only 185,000 signed up.

the trend is especially strong in industrial cities where unemployment has been caused by slumps in the auto and steel industries.

US Navy Comdr. Neil D. Gerl, commanding officer of the armed forces examining and entrance station in Detroit, says 400 recruits are coming through a day for testing, compared with last year's 250 a day.

"The majority of recruits are coming from Flint and Saginaw [Michigan], where unemployment is at 23 percent," he says.

US Army Lt. col. David McMillion, commander of the Cleveland District Recruiting Command, says, "Our biggest selling point today is that we have jobs to offer -- over 300 different kinds of jobs."

Noting that unemployment makes college costs tough fro many families, Colonel McMillion adds that the Army's educational assistance program fills another need of young adults -- "it allows an enlistee to earn up to $17,100 toward college in just three years."

Nationwide unemployment among teenagers 16- to 19-years-old was 19 percent in July, according to Labor Department figures. During the last recession it hit a record level at 20.9 percent in June 1975.

The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-|ear-olds, the prime target for military recruiters, was 12.3 in July; it peaked at 14.8 in May 1975.

In Anderson, Ind., where overall unemployment has reached 22 percent -- the highest in the nation -- Sgt. Billy Franklin says two years ago the high schoolers he tried to recruit usually snubbed his sales pitch on the Army, saying, "I'm going to work with my dad at Delco Remy or Guide Lamp" -- GM plants that recently laid off nearly 6,000 workers.

"But today," Sergeant Franklin says, "the kids just can't get those jobs . . . they know because dad is laid off. So the Army has become a very attractive alternative for them."

Another recruiter in the office adds that the part-time jobs at fast-food restaurants and gas stations that many recent high school graduates used to take now are being claimed by older persons out of work.

Sergeant Franklin says the number of recruits his office ships out every month has almost doubled. The common age bracket ranges from 17 to 20 years old.

New recruits are not the only source of the military's new growth. Re-enlistments are becoming more common, too.

Laid off eight months ago by Delco Remy after 10 years of work, Steven Snoddy signed up with the Army last week as a fire direction control specialist. From 1965 to 1969 he served in the Navy.

"I still get a paycheck from my employer, but I'm bored and have nothing to do," be says. "So I made up my mind to go back in the service. I'll work for 15 years and 7 months and then retire at 49. At Delco I would have retired at 53."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.