Report | December 11, 2023

We Need…All That They Can Be

Military recruiting & civilian workforce shortages demand further investments in Pennsylvania’s youth

A perfect storm of a shrinking workforce paired with ongoing skills / eligibility gaps is causing labor shortages and fierce competition for qualified individuals in most employment sectors, including our Armed Forces.

The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force all missed their active-duty recruiting goals in FY 2023, with the three branches reporting a combined shortfall of more than 20,000 enlistees. The U.S. Coast Guard will fill only 75 percent of the number of needed recruits in 2023. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard missed its 2023 recruiting goal by almost 25 percent and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard by more than 45 percent.

Part of this problem is the fact that 77 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 nationwide cannot meet the military’s eligibility requirements due to inadequate education, obesity or other disqualifying health conditions, or having a record of crime or substance use. This sobering statistic is from before the pandemic; the situation is likely to be worse now, as rates of obesity have increased. The problem is further compounded by the low percentage of young people (nine percent) who are interested in military service in the first place. Some have described the current situation as the “worst recruiting environment in the 50-year history of the all-volunteer military.”

Readiness concerns are echoed by the private sector. According to September 2023 U.S. Chamber of Commerce data, there are currently 340,000 job openings in Pennsylvania, with only 82 available workers for every 100 open jobs, and a labor participation rate of 61.9, below the national average. Research has estimated that educational and skill shortages could cost Pennsylvania’s economy more than $66 billion in lost economic output by 2029.

With more than 60,000 Pennsylvanians reaching retirement age each year, retirements and slow population growth are expected to decrease the commonwealth’s working-age population every year through 2030.

These numbers make it clear that we have more work to do to ensure that ALL young Pennsylvanians are ready for college or careers, including military service. Nothing less than our economy and future national security depend on it.

To combat these challenges, greater investment is needed in high-quality child care and pre-K, basic K-12 education funding, and nutrition programs, such as SNAP and school meals. By continuing to invest in the education and health of young Pennsylvanians, policymakers can help ensure that our children are all that they can be.


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