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3 Things That Could Happen To the Military in a Recession

What happens to the military when a recession strikes?

Economists have been predicting a recession long before the coronavirus struck. In August 2019, Business Insider reported that 70% of experts thought a recession would hit by the end of 2021. It was almost a case of ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ — with record-low unemployment numbers and sky-high listing prices, the growth could not go on forever. 

But before we could see if their predictions were true, the first cases of COVID-19 cropped up in China and rapidly spread to the rest of the world, tanking the global economy. The U.S. stock market saw record dips in March that have not since recovered, and over 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment. 

Congress has passed a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill and is in the process of passing another, but Americans will be suffering from the effects of the coronavirus into the foreseeable future. So military families may be wondering: How will this affect me? 

Even though the defense industry is generally considered “safe” during a recession — due to the fact that it’s necessary — it still undergoes change like any other industry. Here are three things that may happen to the military as the U.S. enters a recession — and what it might mean for military families. 

 

1. Recruitment Could Go Up 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics just estimated the unemployment rate to be near 20%. That’s 1 out of every 5 Americans without a job. Without a means to pay their bills or take care of their families. On an economic level, this isn’t a fix that can happen overnight. But on a personal level… it might be. 

In recent years, the military has been having a harder time than ever recruiting new members. You can chock it up to the booming economy, shifting views on the War in the Middle East, or a generation of young people who simply don’t want to serve. But it’s a whole new ball game in a recession. 

Data from the Army Times in 2009 shows that when unemployment increases by 10%, there is a 3-4% increase in enlistment. In fact, in that same year military recruiters reported that they had met their targets in both numbers and quality, after a long struggle following the institution of voluntary service. 

This means we could soon see a sharp jump in enlistment, as young people are ousted from the civilian workforce and see the military as a viable option for steady housing and employment. 

 

2. A New Commander in Chief Could Be Inaugurated 

The United States — politically divisive as it is — has even further divided itself in the pandemic. Democrats and Republicans are arguing more than ever; over whether we should be staying home, who should be getting government assistance, and who’s to blame for the rocky road we find ourselves on now. None of this is helped by the pressure of the impending election. 

But the fact remains that incumbent presidents are less likely to be reelected during a recession. Even if the downturn isn’t caused by any actions on the president’s part, the American people will remember their hardships and associate it with the elected officials of the time. And President Trump is not helped by the numbers, which show the U.S. far ahead of any other country in terms of both coronavirus cases and deaths. 



If a new president is elected, it will almost certainly be a Democrat; and right now, all signs are pointing to former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has a long history with the military, and famously supported the Iraq War, which he has since apologized for. If he is elected, he is likely to decrease military and weapons spending, as is the Democrat platform. 

His website lists some of his focuses when it comes to the military, which include:

  • Paying service members a competitive wage
  • Providing resources for military spouses, caregivers, and survivors
  • Prioritizing support for military children

 

3. The Defense Budget Could Go Down 

This leads us into our last point, which is the likelihood of a decrease in the defense budget. If a Democrat is elected to office, the budget will see a definite decrease — at least, a decrease from Trump’s record $720-plus billion.

However, if Trump maintains his seat, there’s still a chance he will have to reign in his military spending. He has increased the budget each year of his first term — and he’s known for his exorbitant weapons spending — but infusing the military with more money while Americans suffer through a recession would not be a popular move. 



So what would a budget cut mean for the military? Probably a scaleback of new weapons, technology and aircraft development, where most of the big bucks go. But it’s hard to make guesses of which fat the government is likely to trim first. 

 

The Military in a Recession: Don’t Be Too Worried 

First and foremost, there’s no chance that the military will shut down in a recession. That already makes it a safer job prospect than 99% of the other jobs out there. However, the organization may go through transitions if the U.S. economy doesn’t bounce back quickly enough. 

As we’ve seen time and time again, military members must be more adaptable than the average civilian. This may have given military families a leg up during the pandemic; while civilians aren’t used to their lives being turned upside down at the drop of a hat, it’s something military families have come to know — maybe a little bit too well. 

So, as a whole, you can expect the military lifestyle to stay largely untouched. There will still be jobs to do, deployments to go on and PCSs completed. There will still be change around every corner. And who knows? Maybe the devastation of the coronavirus will alert world leaders to the fact that there are more important things than war. Maybe something good will come out of all this. 


Take a Look: How the Military Prepares You for a Pandemic

 

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