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The volunteer military — myths and reality

Posted by Richard on December 1, 2005

You’ve no doubt heard the claims, often made by proponents of the draft such as Rep. Charles Rangel: The volunteer military attracts mainly the underclass. The fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan are being done mainly by desperate young men and women, often duped by recruiters, who are much more poor, less educated, and less likely to be white than their civilian peers.

Well, the claims aren’t true, according to a Heritage Foundation study:

According to a comprehensive study of all enlistees for the years 1998-99 and 2003 that The Heritage Foundation just released, the typical recruit in the all-volunteer force is wealthier, more educated and more rural than the average 18- to 24-year-old citizen is. Indeed, for every two recruits coming from the poorest neighborhoods, there are three recruits coming from the richest neighborhoods.

The only commonly-held myth that’s true is that recruits are more likely to come from rural areas and the South. But that’s always been true. I grew up as an Army brat in the 50s and 60s, and it was certainly true then. Kids in the South and in rural areas are more likely to be brought up with strong values of "duty, honor, country." And they’re more likely to consider "seeing the world" as attractive and to believe that their future lies beyond their small community.

One of the striking findings in the study was the shift in enlistments among income groups after 9/11:

In fact, since the 9/11 attacks, more volunteers have emerged from the middle and upper classes and fewer from the lowest-income groups. In 1999, both the highest fifth of the nation in income and the lowest fifth were slightly underrepresented among military volunteers. Since 2001, enlistments have increased in the top two-fifths of income levels but have decreased among the lowest fifth.

Nor is it true that whites are significantly underrepresented:

Allegations that recruiters are disproportionately targeting blacks also don’t hold water. First, whites make up 77.4% of the nation’s population and 75.8% of its military volunteers, according to our analysis of Department of Defense data.

Second, we explored the 100 three-digit ZIP code areas with the highest concentration of blacks, which range from 24.1% black up to 68.6%. These areas, which account for 14.6% of the adult population, produced 16.6% of recruits in 1999 and only 14.1% in 2003.

Wealthier, more educated, more rural, and just about representative of the general population ethnically. And morale? Well, the military has had trouble meeting new recruiting targets (as you’d expect after 10 straight quarters of 3%+ economic growth, and with low unemployment). But re-enlistments have been extraordinarily high, and they’ve been highest among those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HT: Jan in Denver

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