Deseret Morning News graphic

Military recruiters are targeting low- and middle-income communities to boost recruitment numbers, according to a new study.

That might be why Utah ranks near the bottom of a list ranking state-recruitment rates, according to the nonprofit National Priorities Project.

Researchers studied 2004 Defense Department figures and found Utah's recruitment rate is well below the national average. Utah ranked 47th out of 53 in a ranking of nationwide military recruitment rates.

Utah's median household income is nearly $5,000 more than the national average, a figure that lends to more opportunities for those just out of high school other than enlisting. Nearly two-thirds of all recruits nationwide were from counties with median household incomes below the national average.

"As the Iraq War continues and the number of soldiers killed and wounded mounts, this data makes clear that low- and middle-income kids are paying the highest price," said Greg Speeter, executive director of the National Priorities Project. "It's young people with limited opportunities that are putting their lives on the line."

Utah averaged 3.6 recruits per 1,000 people between the ages of 18-24, compared to the national average of 5.2 recruits. The study surveyed only those who enlisted in the Army, Navy or Air Force active duty, or Army Reserves.

Some Utahns might not enlist because educational and job opportunities come easier to those who have higher incomes, said Anita Dancs, National Priorities Project's research director. Utah's numbers might also be lower because so many of the state's high school graduates leave for an LDS mission instead of enlisting in the military, Dancs said.

"There is a good chance that once they go on their mission, it may give them enough time and other opportunities, so when they come back, for whatever reason, they don't want to join the military because they have something to do right after high school," Dancs said.

Local recruiters dispute the report and say they met their recruiting goals for the 2005 fiscal year. Col. John Mulbury, commander of the Army's Salt Lake City Recruiting Battalion, said spring was a slow time for recruiters in Utah, but things picked up during the summer.

"Although all signs predicted failure, our U.S. Army recruiters pulled together and achieved their mission the last four months of the (fiscal) year," Mulbury said, noting that August 2005 was the Salt Lake City Recruiting Battalion's highest monthly achievement since 2001. "Considering we are at war and are made up of a volunteer force, America's Army is doing quite well."

But Dancs said the Utah recruiting station's goals might be too low.

"They always try to put a very positive face on recruiting," Anita Dancs, research director for the Massachusetts-based National Priorities Project, said of local recruiting offices. "But the fact of the matter is, Utah's recruiting rate is well below the national average."

Mulbury's goals for Salt Lake City Recruiting Battalion recruiters are to enlist 80,000 soldiers to the active Army and 22,175 in the Army Reserve in the 2006 fiscal year.

According to the National Priorities Project study of the 2004 figures, recruiters had the most success in the heavily populated counties along the Wasatch Front. Weber County had the highest recruitment rate in the state with 5.9 per 1,000 youth between the ages of 18-24, while Salt Lake County brought in the largest number of the state's recruits with 433.

The Defense Department has struggled to meet recruiting goals while the war in Iraq rages on. Recruiters use incentives like the Army's $20,000 enlistment bonus to those who sign up for four or more years of duty to lure new recruits.

"We realize there are challenges ahead and recruiting numbers may not show an immediate increase simply with the new fiscal year, but we will apply new initiatives and (have) proposed new incentives, which are pending approval, to help attract the right people," Mulbury said.

E-mail: [email protected]