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READY, WILLING, AND UNABLE TO SERVE: New Report Says 75 Percent of Young People Are Unable to Enlist in the Military

"Support for high-quality early education will help ensure that more people are on track for successful careers, including military service."

Approximately 75 percent of young people aged seventeen to twenty-four are unable to enlist in the military because they fail to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit, according to a new report from Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit organization led by senior retired military leaders, including two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff. To combat this problem, the report, Ready, Willing, and Unable to Serve, released on November 5, calls for a greater investment in high-quality early learning programs to ensure that more young people are eligible to serve.

“These are the same young people we depend on to serve in times of need and ultimately protect this nation,” said former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark. “Support for high-quality early education will help ensure that more people are on track for successful careers, including military service.”

Approximately one out of four young people lack a high school diploma. Additionally, many young people who do graduate from high school still fail the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT)-which is used to determine math and reading skills-and cannot join the military. According to the report, about 30 percent of potential recruits with a high school diploma take the AFQT and fail it. Some individuals who have obtained a General Equivalency Degree (GED) can receive a waiver if they score well enough on the AFQT.

Other barriers to enlistment are criminal records and poor physical fitness. The report notes that one in ten young adults cannot join because they have at least one prior conviction for a felony or serious misdemeanor. Nearly 30 percent of young Americans are rejected because they are too overweight to join the military. Other individuals are unqualified because they have other health problems such as eyesight or hearing problems or mental health issues.

In order to take in fewer young people who have a criminal record, are overweight, or have no high school diploma, the U.S. Army has been spending about $22,000 per recruit in enlistment bonuses. During the current economic recession, the military has experienced a surge in enlistments, but the report cautions that the challenge of finding high-quality recruits will return once the economy begins to grow.

To decrease high school dropout rates and cut crime, the report recommends increased investments in high-quality early education. It cites several research studies that show children in early education programs are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to be chronic offenders.

The complete report is available at


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