- Nov 22, 2003
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Research: National Security
Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 20032005
by Tim Kane, Ph.D.
Center for Data Analysis Report #06-09
October 27, 2006 |
A pillar of conventional wisdom about the U.S. military is that the quality of volunteers has been degraded after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Examples of the voices making this claim range from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Daily News  to Michael Moores pseudo-documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Some insist that minorities and the underprivileged are over*represented in the military. Others accuse the U.S. Army of accepting unqualified enlistees in a futile attempt to meet its recruiting goals in the midst of an unpopular war.
A report published by The Heritage Foundation in November 2005 examined the issue and could not substantiate any degradation in troop quality by comparing military enlistees in 1999 to those in 2003. It is possible that troop quality did not degrade until after the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, when patriotism was high. A common assumption is that the Army experienced difficulty getting qualified enlistees in 2005 and was subse*quently forced to lower its standards. This report revisits the issue by examining the full recruiting classes for all branches of the U.S. military for every year from 2003 to 2005.
The current findings show that the demo*graphic characteristics of volunteers have contin*ued to show signs of higher, not lower, quality. Quality is a difficult concept to apply to soldiers, or to human beings in any context, and it should be understood here in context. Regardless of the standards used to screen applicants, the average quality of the people accepted into any organiza*tion can be assessed only by using measurable cri*teria, which surely fail to account for intangible characteristics. In the military, it is especially questionable to claim that measurable characteris*tics accurately reflect what really matters: cour*age, honor, integrity, loyalty, and leadership.
Those who have been so quick to suggest that todays wartime recruits represent lesser quality, lower standards, or lower class should be expected make an airtight case. Instead, they have cited selective evidence, which is balanced by a much clearer set of evidence showing improving troop quality.
Indeed, in many criteria, each year shows advancement, not decline, in measurable qualities of new enlistees. For example, it is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pen*tagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005.
This report updates the previous Heritage Foun*dation report, with data on all U.S. recruits during 2004 and 2005. We introduce the term wartime recruits to identify volunteer enlistees in all branches during 2003, 2004, and 2005. Like the previous report, the analysis considers the follow*ing characteristics:
Level of education,
In summary, the additional years of recruit data (20042005) sup*port the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight dif*ferences are that wartime U.S. mil*itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver*age than their civilian peers.
Recruits have a higher percent*age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distri*bution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population.
Demographic evidence discredits the argument that a draft is necessary to enforce representation from racial and socioeconomic groups. Addition*ally, three of the four branches of the armed forces met their recruiting goals in fiscal year 2005, and Army reenlistments are the highest in the past five years. A draft is not necessary to increase the size of the active-duty forces. Our analysis using Pentagon data on wartime volunteers effectively shatters the case for reinstating the draft.
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