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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Uncle Sam Grant May Not WANT the Poor 

This is what I said:

Let me say at the outset that I don't have a problem with legal immigrants serving in our armed forces, nor do I have a problem with requiring legal immigrants to serve in our armed forces in the same way that citizens serve. In other words, in a time of draft, legal immigrants have been obligated to serve. Just ask Howard Stringer.

Some people argue that even asking legal immigrants - or poor citizens - to serve in the armed forces is a form of slavery and exploitation. However, I don't go that far.

First, let's look at military recruitment (or non-recruitment) of the poor.

From military.com:

Most military recruits in the United States come from areas in which household income is lower than the national median, a non-profit group says.

Nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, of recruits to the military were from counties that have average incomes lower than the national median National Priorities Project said. The group looked at Department of Defense data for 2004.

According to NPP, 15 of the top 20 counties that had the highest numbers of recruits had higher poverty rates than the national average, and 18 of the top 20 had higher poverty rates than the state average.

And here's what the Washington Post says about the same study:

Many of today's recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income. Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.

Such patterns are pronounced in such counties as Martinsville, Va., that supply the greatest number of enlistees in proportion to their youth populations. All of the Army's top 20 counties for recruiting had lower-than-national median incomes, 12 had higher poverty rates, and 16 were non-metropolitan, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group that analyzed 2004 recruiting data by Zip code.

On the other hand, here's what the Heritage Foundation says:

A few Members of Congress, motivated by American combat in the Middle East, have called for the reinstatement of a compulsory military draft. The case for coercing young citizens to join the military is supposedly based on social jus­tice—that all should serve—and seems to be but­tressed by reports of shortfalls in voluntary enlistment. In a New York Times op-ed on Decem­ber 31, 2002, Representative Charles Rangel (D– NY) claimed, “A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while most priv­ileged Americans are underrepresented or absent.”...Rangel’s assertions about the demographic makeup of the enlisted military are not grounded in fact....

This paper reports the results of summary research into the demographic composition of two groups of recruits: those who enlisted between October 1998 and September 1999 and those who enlisted between January 2003 and September 2003. These groups are referred to as the 1999 and 2003 recruit cohorts, respectively. Nationwide Census data for citizens ages 18–24 were used as a baseline for comparison. Comparisons of these three different groups highlight the differences not only between the general population and military volunteers, but also between recruits who volun­teered for the military before 9/11 and those who volunteered after 9/11....

This paper also reviews other evidence that is at odds with the image, painted by some supporters of the draft, that the military exploits poor, ignorant, young Americans by using slick advertising that promises technical careers in the military to dupe them into trading their feeble opportunities in the private sector for a meager role as cannon fodder....

The household income of recruits generally matches the income distribution of the American population. There are slightly higher proportions of recruits from the middle class and slightly lower proportions from low-income brackets. However, the proportion of high-income recruits rose to a disproportionately high level after the war on ter­rorism began, as did the proportion of highly edu­cated enlistees. All of the demographic evidence that we analyzed contradicts the pro-draft case....

According to the 2000 Census, the national median income per household in 1999 was $41,994 in 1999 dollars. By assigning each recruit the median 1999 household income for his hometown ZIP code, we calculated that the mean 1999 income for 1999 recruits before entering the military was $41,141 (in 1999 dollars). The mean 1999 income for 2003 recruits was $42,822 (in 1999 dollars). In other words, on average, recruits in 2003 were from wealthier neighborhoods than were recruits in 1999....

For instance, the largest percentage cohort of 1999 recruits (17.8 percent) came from neighborhoods with average household incomes of $35,000 to $40,000. Very few recruits—less than 5 percent—came from neighborhoods with average incomes below $20,000 per household....

We find that, on average, recruits tend to be much more highly educated than the general pub­lic and that this education disparity increased after the war on terrorism began....

Here's a blog summary of the Heritage Foundation report:

But what do the facts actually tell us about where the typical American military volunteer comes from these days? Dr. Tim Kane, an economist who works in The Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis, wondered the same thing recently, so he asked the Defense Department for all the demographic data he could get on recruits.

What Kane got in response from DOD was an avalanche of demographic data about the 1999 and 2003 recruits. After conducting extensive statistical analyses on the data, Kane reached some conclusions that will surprise anybody who believes the conventional wisdom about who becomes cannon fodder.

Check out the graphic above. Note the proportions of recruits from each of the five demographic quintiles, organized according to per capita income by zip code. The percentage of recruits from the poorest quintile is actually lower in 1999 and 2003 than the percentage for the richest quintile.

In fact, the percentage difference between the richest and poorest quintiles increases between 1999 and 2003! And the highest percentage is actually in the second richest quintile of recruits, followed by the richest quintile. It is no exaggeration to say America's most prosperous families bear the greatest share of the burden of fighting in America's defense.

A Defense Department representative stated the following:

[M]ilitary recruits are far better educated than the general youth population, Carr said. More than 90 percent of recruits have a high school diploma, compared to about 75 percent of the U.S. youth population.

That's an important issue to the military, Carr said, because a traditional high school diploma is the single best indicator of a recruit's stick-to-it-ness and likelihood of successfully adjusting to military service. Recruits with a high school diploma have a 70 percent probability of completing a three-year enlistment versus a 50 percent chance for nongraduates.

The military has exceeded the 90-percent benchmark for recruits with high school diplomas every year since 1983, Carr noted....

Recruits actually have much higher average aptitudes than the general youth population, Carr said. In fiscal 2005, 67 percent of recruits scored above the 60th percentile on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The test is designed so that the average young person will score 50 percent, he explained.
But high achievement on the test isn't new, Carr said. Sixty percent of new enlistees have scored at or above the 50 percentile -- the military's benchmark for recruits -- every year since 1985....

In reality, military recruits mirror the U.S. population and are solidly middle class, Carr said. He cited a recent Heritage Foundation report that shows most recruits come from middle-class families, rather than poorer or wealthier ones. Patterns in recent years reinforce this trend, showing a slight dip in recruits from lower socioeconomic groups and a slight increase from upper-class groups, Carr said....

Inner cities are actually the most underrepresented area among new recruits, Carr said. Both suburban and rural areas are overrepresented, he said.

JS Online postulates why the poor aren't being used for cannon fodder:

The reason particularly poor neighborhoods are home to fewer recruits: Residents are often badly educated, so the military doesn't want them.

"If they don't have, at bare minimum, a GED, they ain't going nowhere," Cousineau says.

A lot of parents and counselors still see the military as a fallback option, easy to get into if nothing else works out, says Master Sgt. John Purcell, a Marine who now trains recruiters throughout Wisconsin. Many are chagrined when the Marines say no.

"We want to talk to the class president, the quarterback," says Purcell, and while both may have college on their minds, recruiters say it's enough to plant a mental seed.

Yet the myth still persists:

The American military does not depend on poor recruits to sustain itself, argues Tim Cavanaugh in ''Middle-Class Warfare: Military Recruits and Poverty'' in Reason magazine.

In different ways, Democrats and Republicans both subscribe to the notion that recruits are poor kids driven to enlist by desperate financial conditions. Most recently, it's been an argument for the draft: Impose conscription, the idea goes, and it won't just be poor kids going to war.

Yet the Harvard Crimson notes some issues with the Heritage Foundation study, asserting that perhaps the poor aren't going to war, but it's not the middle class that's going, either - it's the working class:

Heritage’s study has some serious flaws....While it’s difficult to tell from their methodology section, it seems like Heritage compared the family income of military recruits with the income of all American families. They estimated that the mean income of military recruits was $41,141, almost the same as the national average of $41,994....If we compare them with families headed by individuals in their 40s, the picture looks different. These families have an average income of $56,000 to $60,000, depending on which age range you focus on. In other word, the families that military recruits come from are making as much as $20,000 a year—half their income—less than the average for their peers, placing them solidly in the working class, not the middle class.

Heritage also claims that military recruits are better educated than the general population. They note that 98 percent of recruits have a high school education, compared to 75 percent of the general population. But recruits are far less likely to have completed any college than their peers. It’s hard to make the case, based on Heritage’s data, that recruits are desperate due to lack of education, but it’s also hard to argue that they have more educational resources than their peers.

Heritage’s study doesn’t show that the military perfectly mirrors the general population. But it does show that the situation is not as bad as Rangel and others have suggested. Individuals from all income strata choose to join the military. The average recruit may not be middle class, but he is not dirt poor either.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

The working class IS poor. That's part of the damn problem.

I can vouch for the economically depressed areas of Ohio, including my hometown, producing large numbers of soldiers. In fact, it’s almost a given, especially for kids that don’t have great high school grades so there’s not a lot of scholarship potential.

I also maintain a belief I blogged about awhile back, that many poor, salt-of-the-earth folks tend to be religious as well, as was true in my hometown, which for many dictates a sense of duty to serve.

I agree with you that there is nothing wrong with requiring legal immigrants to register. They are reaping the benefits of this country, which they have adopted as their home, and should be willing to fight for it if needed.

Great job researching this issue.
Re the sense of duty to serve - I don't think I posted this excerpt, but the researchers have noticed that a large number of soldiers come from the South. A sense of duty was hypothesized as the reason, but I don't know if any studies have confirmed this. (The difficulty in designing such a study is that you need to make sure that the variable you select explains it, and not some other variable, such as income level or education.)
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