The Army fell short of its recruiting goals in fiscal year 2018 for the first time since 2005. Army leaders say they missed the target number of 76,500 new soldiers by about 6,500. The National Guard and the Army Reserves also missed goals. Both the Navy and Marine made their goals.

Maj. Gen. Joe Calloway, director of the Army’s personnel directorate, blames the shortfall on the booming economy and competition from private sector companies who can offer higher pay. The shortfall creates a dilemma for the largest branch of the American military, especially since Army plans call for adding another 500,000 troops by 2024. The worrisome disparity between meeting the required end strength and the actual number of warm bodies recruited has spurred intense scrutiny of current recruiting practices.

To address the problem, more soldiers have been assigned to recruiting duty and new advertising campaigns that target online gamers have been developed. In March, the service announced it soon would be sending recruiters to places where few recruiters have gone before — inside 22 left-leaning American cities. Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, the head of Army Recruiting Command, told The New York Times, “We want to go into Boston, Pittsburgh, Kansas City. These are places with a large number of youth who just don’t know what the military is about.”

The sizzling economy and recruiting shortfall were topics of conversation at a recent social event. One individual commented that the growth of the private sector job market and shortfall of military applicants is going to force the military services to lower their enlistment standards. Army leadership insists that is not going to happen. Let’s hope not. Today’s U.S. armed services have the smartest, best-trained and healthiest troops in the world. But that dinner conversation did raise some questions about exactly who is serving in the United States military today.

According to the lengthy report “Population Representation in the Military Services: Fiscal Year 2017 Summary Report” from CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization in Arlington, Virginia, American military members serving today exceed the Department of Defense’s recruit quality benchmarks. The Armed Forces Qualification Test — a nationally normed aptitude test of math and verbal skills administered to all applicants — determines if one meets established qualifications for enlistment.

The military, on average, also is better educated than the general population. Overall, 98 percent of enlisted active duty troops have at least a high school diploma compared with only 88 percent of American adults. And military officers are considerably better educated than average U.S. adults. More than 80 percent of active-duty officers have at least a bachelor’s degree and 42 percent advanced degrees, compared with about 30 percent of the general population.

And as for socioeconomic representation, forget the old perception that enlisted troops come from low-income, deadbeat homes. Researchers with CNA found that most recruits come from solidly middle-class families. In fact, lower-income neighborhoods tend to be underrepresented in the military. Between 2013 and 2017, the largest group of accessions came from families with annual incomes between $51,364 and $63,888.

Retaining this remarkable military during a roaring economy is going to continue to be a challenge for the services. Especially given that nearly 75 percent of young Americans are ineligible for military service due to health issues, obesity, a lack of education and criminal records. But lowering standards is a bad idea. Operating today’s military weapons, aircraft and ships and other aspects of modern warfighting requires savvy and intelligent troops.

Appealing to heretofore ignored sectors of the population is smart. The military offers great education benefits, health care and job training. We wish the Army luck in getting that message across.