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Army More Selective as Economy Lags

Above all, the economic crisis has increased unemployment and reduced job opportunities -- particularly in sectors that tend to employ young people, said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's top recruiting official.

When the recession hits the service sector, "everything from McDonald's to cutbacks at Best Buy and some of the more entry-level jobs . . . this impacts young people more. Those who are last hired tend to be first fired," Gilroy said. "They would then view the military option more favorably."

Another factor has been improved security in Iraq, officials said. "Casualties are way down, neighborhoods are safer, and that has proved a significant factor," Gilroy said.

American youth are increasingly likely to join the military, recent Pentagon polling has shown. Those ages 16 to 21 who said they would "definitely" or "probably" serve in the military in the next few years rose from 9 percent in December 2007 to 13 percent last December, according to Defense Department Youth Polls.

The gains in recruiting are leading the Army to cut its recruiting budget and scale back some bonuses and incentives. The service plans to cut 1,100 active-duty, Reserve and contract recruiters over the next two years, Anderson said.

But Army and Pentagon officials are concerned that cutting back too sharply would be unwise, given the cyclical nature of the economy and recruitment.

"It may be easy and quick to cut recruiting budgets; it is difficult, time consuming and expensive to ramp back up when recruiting becomes difficult once again," Gilroy said.

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