As the federal government considers cuts to defense spending — about $500 billion over next nine years — the potential impact to San Diego’s economy has become a major topic of local concern.

Mayor Jerry Sanders and defense industry officials warn the cuts could put many out of work, and often describe the number of military jobs here to describe what employment losses could be at stake here.

One of the most common claims: “We have the largest concentration of military personnel of anywhere in the United States.”

Sanders used that national comparison while lobbying Congress last month to shelve the budget cuts. The claim has also appeared in reports about the local economy by business and military advocacy groups.

We decided to Fact Check the claim because it’s very common, and it’s a big reason why some argue that the cuts would hit our economy harder than other places.


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We also wanted to test a new method of coverage. Rather than Fact Check a bunch of claims about different topics each month, we want to try to set themes over a period of time, allowing us to drill deeper into issues. This allows us to build expertise rather than just hop between topics.

For the next few weeks, I’m planning to focus on fact checking claims about the local military, veterans and the defense industry. Aside from our normal Fact Check format, I’ll be writing about ongoing research and instances where the truth is hard to determine.

So far, the national comparison of military personnel is one of those instances.

To compare personnel by location, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense referred us to this online almanac. It reports the number of active personnel by military base, zip code and the nearest metropolitan area.

We decided to compare metropolitan areas — cities larger than 50,000 residents. When Sanders and others have made the claim, they have been referring to the military jobs across the region — not just at one military base or across a relatively small area like a zip code.

The most recent almanac appears to support San Diego’s position atop other metropolitan areas. In 2010, the Department of Defense reported employing about 93,000 active military personnel in the San Diego area. See the graphic below for a breakdown.

Though these figures appear to support the claim, we still don’t know if the overall comparison is accurate. The almanac doesn’t account for a crucial piece of information that we still need to find.

The figures only represent uniformed military personnel. They don’t include civilian employees — such as some clerical staff and researchers — who also receive Department of Defense paychecks and could be affected by the spending cuts.

We’re still working with military officials to see if the number of civilian employees is available and could be added to our national comparison. Hopefully we’ll have an answer in the next week.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that how the cuts to defense spending would affect San Diego jobs is unclear. President Barack Obama hasn’t outlined exactly how they would be spread across the nation.

The cuts could spare San Diego or provide some benefit to the economy if other military functions are consolidated and relocated here. The military already has plans to boost its presence in the Pacific and San Diego is home to the nation’s Pacific fleet.

Two weeks ago, Congress pushed for more clarity. It approved legislation aimed at forcing the president to explain how the defense cuts would be rolled out. The New York Times said it didn’t know if the president would sign the legislation or risk Congress overriding his veto. He has 30 days to decide.

But last week, according to U.S. News & World Report, the president released at least one big detail in a memo to Congress. He promised to exempt cuts to uniformed military personnel, shifting more pressure to the civilian workforce and other parts of the budget like new equipment.

That latest revelation adds all the more reason to figure out how many civilian personnel are currently employed in San Diego and across the country.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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    This article relates to: Economy, Fact Check, Government, News

    Written by Keegan Kyle

    20 comments
    Rick Holbach
    Rick Holbach subscriber

    Let's not forget all the military spouses and dependents that work, go to school, buy goods and services, and support the economy as well. Lose one major base and those jobs and economic support will not easily be replaced. Look at how long it took for the area to recover after NTC closed.

    Trickione
    Trickione

    Let's not forget all the military spouses and dependents that work, go to school, buy goods and services, and support the economy as well. Lose one major base and those jobs and economic support will not easily be replaced. Look at how long it took for the area to recover after NTC closed.

    Rick Holbach
    Rick Holbach subscriber

    Even if you subtract the Pendalton numbers SD still has more military personnel.

    Trickione
    Trickione

    Even if you subtract the Pendalton numbers SD still has more military personnel.

    Christopher Nadolski
    Christopher Nadolski subscriber

    Like I said, good luck on getting your data. I will be following your blog to see what you come up with.

    Chris Nadolski
    Chris Nadolski

    Like I said, good luck on getting your data. I will be following your blog to see what you come up with.

    Ben Dahlin
    Ben Dahlin subscriber

    Since the referenced report counts those as seperate metro areas while it counts Pendleton under the San Diego metro, I understand the confusion. However, it is a point worth clarifying.

    bd92110
    bd92110

    Since the referenced report counts those as seperate metro areas while it counts Pendleton under the San Diego metro, I understand the confusion. However, it is a point worth clarifying.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    If we lost a major base here, nothing would replace it. We would simply have to cut budgets even more.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    If we lost a major base here, nothing would replace it. We would simply have to cut budgets even more.

    Thomas Morales
    Thomas Morales subscriber

    As may have been examined in “A Social Construction of Reality”; when taking what others say, or do…, or write out of context from the meaning of the creator of what was said, done…, written, it is always possible to re-present a meaning other-than what can only truly be known in the mind of the actor her / his self - if even then.

    Tomas
    Tomas

    As may have been examined in “A Social Construction of Reality”; when taking what others say, or do…, or write out of context from the meaning of the creator of what was said, done…, written, it is always possible to re-present a meaning other-than what can only truly be known in the mind of the actor her / his self - if even then.

    Mark Cafferty
    Mark Cafferty subscribermember

    If I find any good comparison data I will send it your way. Have you tried Lynn Reaser, Chief Economist at Point Loma Nazarene University? She is the economist behind the 2012 SDMAC study. She may have some information from other regions.

    mark cafferty
    mark cafferty

    If I find any good comparison data I will send it your way. Have you tried Lynn Reaser, Chief Economist at Point Loma Nazarene University? She is the economist behind the 2012 SDMAC study. She may have some information from other regions.

    keegankyle
    keegankyle subscriber

    Hi Mark. Thanks for the statistics and the link. I've checked out the SDMAC study, but unfortunately it doesn't include comparable statistics for other parts of the country as well. That's been the tricky part of this story.

    keegankyle
    keegankyle

    Hi Mark. Thanks for the statistics and the link. I've checked out the SDMAC study, but unfortunately it doesn't include comparable statistics for other parts of the country as well. That's been the tricky part of this story.

    Ian Trowbridge
    Ian Trowbridge subscribermember

    San Diego is disproportionately dependent on the military, hoteliers, and developers all of whom generate false statistics for its economic health. That is why it never will be America's Finest city.

    iantrowbridge
    iantrowbridge

    San Diego is disproportionately dependent on the military, hoteliers, and developers all of whom generate false statistics for its economic health. That is why it never will be America's Finest city.

    Mark Cafferty
    Mark Cafferty subscribermember

    This is the 2011 report. The more recent 2012 report has updated data (available on-line for purchase). I have a hard copy in my office and will post updated data for you tomorrow. All data pretty much points to San Diego having "the largest military concentration anywhere in the United States."

    mark cafferty
    mark cafferty

    This is the 2011 report. The more recent 2012 report has updated data (available on-line for purchase). I have a hard copy in my office and will post updated data for you tomorrow. All data pretty much points to San Diego having "the largest military concentration anywhere in the United States."