In response to a Nov. 8 article entitled "Recruiters Score Big in State," Thomas McCarthy sent a letter to the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) on "the poverty draft."[1]  --  The News Tribune declined to publish the letter, despite its obvious merit.  --  McCarthy found inappropriate the tone of the article describing the fact that Pierce County is one of the biggest contributors of young people to the U.S. military.[2]  --  "The headline read like it was a football game," comments McCarthy, who is active in local counter-recruitment efforts.  --  The Seattle Times article to which McCarthy refers in his letter was originally published in the Washington Post on Nov. 4; it is also posted below.[3]  --  In it Ann Scott Tyson writes:  "To be sure, some young people who need jobs or college money also seek adventure and a chance to serve their country.  Others come from towns with large bases or populations of veterans interwoven with a military culture that helps keep enlistments high.  And a rising percentage of youth from wealthy areas is signing up, presumably for patriotic reasons.  --  But nationwide, data point above all to places such as Martinsville [VA, near the North Caroline border], where rural roads lined with pine and poplar trees snake through lonely, desolate towns, as the wellspring for the youth fighting America's wars."  --  Both the Washington Post piece and the News Tribune article drew data from a National Priorities Project study released earlier this month.[4]  --  That study showed that "Nearly two-thirds of all recruits (64%) were from counties with median household incomes below the U.S. median."  --  (Pierce County, WA, does not fall in that category: its median household income is $46,791 while in the U.S. generally it is $43,052.)  --  NPP noted that "All of the top 20 counties had a median household income below the national median household income."  --  (Making that list required a 16% recruitment rate of 18- to 24-year-old youth; in Pierce County, WA, the rate was 8.1%.)  --  The News Tribune concludes by citing an interesting Heritage Foundation study by economist Tom Kane; this study, which is also reproduced below, is an elaborate analysis arguing against the return of the draft.[5]  --  The Heritage study is finer-grained, being based on Zip Code areas, rather than NPP's county-based analysis.  --  Kane's analysis could be used to support an argument for what might be called a "lower-middle-class opportunity draft" more than for a classic "poverty draft"; he shows that recruits from the lowest quintile of ZIP codes has actually declined in recent years, and "Very few recruits -- less than 5 percent -- came from neighborhoods with average incomes below $20,000 per household."  --  But Kane's study seems to be deliberately designed to disguise such a phenomenon, since it lumps the second, third, and fourth income quintiles together for purposes of analysis, thus obscuring information about recruitment from the lower middle class.  --  In any event, the article is of limited relevance to the NPP study, since it is based on a comparison of 1999 and 2003 recruiting data, and the NPP data is from 2004.  --  It does agree with the NPP study, however, in affirming that "recruits are dispro­portionately rural, not urban."  --  Pierce County's results would seem to have more to do with the proximity of military bases than with other factors....



By Thomas McCarthy

November 2005

The draft is back in America -- a poverty draft. Veteran Army recruiter Christopher Barber said it best: "The job market is dwindling, and it's hard for a young man or woman to find something other than the fast-food business." What happened to the America where young people could get a job that they could raise a family on? Workplaces such as Kaiser Aluminum have been outsourced and our youth have been left with McJobs . . . or the military.

A recent news article in the Seattle Times (Nov. 9) makes it clear that the military gets its recruits mostly from economically depressed areas like, well, Pierce County. Given our poor job market, no wonder Pierce County tied with Montana -- the state with the nation's highest recruitment rate -- both having an 8.1% of their 18-24 year-olds being recruited.

It is honorable to serve in our military, but much depends on our leaders' honor. WWII was one thing and Iraq is quite another. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld -- chickenhawks and draft-dodgers all -- lied about WMD's to deceive the American people into supporting the war. Now, polls say that most Americans are having second thoughts about this war. Thousands of Iraqis and American troops are dying (like at least three Pierce County natives) and for what?

Washington's youth deserve a better future than being forced by poverty to be roadside-bomb targets in a war that defends only the profits of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Texaco. We must do better by our youth!

--Thomas McCarthy

If you would appreciate further commentaries of this sort, drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



By Les Blumenthal

** Pierce County helps rank Washington 10th in U.S. for military enlistees **

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
November 8, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Washington state has one of the highest military recruitment rates in the nation and Pierce County, home to two major bases, is one of the reasons, according to a new analysis.

Washington ranked 10th among the 50 states with 62 out of every 1,000 18- to 24-year-olds enlisting in the Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps. Nearly 4,000 young people from Washington joined up in 2004.

The national recruitment rate was 5.2 percent, with Montana the top state at 8.1 percent.

Among Washington’s 39 counties, Pierce ranked eighth with a rate of 8.1 percent. Nearly 660 young adults from Pierce County enlisted last year, almost 17 percent of the state’s total.

Virtually all of the counties with higher recruitment rates than Pierce were mostly rural, mostly economically depressed, and mostly conservative.

South Sound high schools also provided fertile ground for military recruiters.

Spanaway Lake topped the state’s high schools with 40 students signing up for the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps in 2004 and Bethel, with 30 students, was No. 2. The Navy did not provided school-by-school numbers.

Four of the top 10 Washington high schools in terms of military recruits were in the South Sound and 15 of the top 40 were in the region.

The analysis comes at a time when the Pentagon is scrambling to fill its recruitment goals and a handful of lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for reinstituting the draft. Because of the shrinking number of recruits, the Army during the previous fiscal year was forced to accept its least qualified class in decades, based on education and test results.

Nationally, the analysis found that nearly 45 percent of military recruits came from rural areas and only 14 percent from major metropolitan areas. The South provided the most enlistees, 40 percent, followed by the West with 24 percent.

The National Priorities Project of Massachusetts, a nonpartisan research group that tracks how federal programs affect local communities, conducted the analysis using recruitment data provided by the Pentagon through a Freedom of Information Act request from a magazine connected with the American Friends Service Committee.

While the national trends may not have been as pronounced in Washington State, Anita Dancs, the NPP’s research director, said it is clear that recruitment rates, especially for the Army, were a little higher in rural areas and among low- and middle-income young adults.

“I don’t think this is earth-shattering news,” Dancs said. “It confirms what we believed -- that low-income kids have fewer options.”

The difference in Washington state was the high recruitment rate near such major military installations as the Army’s Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, both in Pierce County.

Pierce County, along with Kitsap County, Island County, and Snohomish County, provided almost one-third of the state’s recruits. Kitsap, Island, and Snohomish counties are each home to major Navy bases.

“Areas that have large bases tend to have higher recruitment rates,” said Dancs. “If your parents are in the military, you may be more likely to join the military.”

Pentagon officials hadn’t seen the analysis but defended their recruitment efforts.

“We want the U.S. military to be reflective of American society,” Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said in a statement. “We are an all volunteer force and as such our demographics reflect who’s choosing to serve. The services communicate their recruiting messages to all elements of society to make sure everyone knows what the U.S. military has to offer.”

However, a new study from the Heritage Foundation that will be released today disagrees with the NPP’s analysis.

Heritage, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., found that since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks an increasing number of recruits were coming from high-income neighborhoods and the education quality of recruits is actually on the rise.

“I would dispute anyone who says enlistees are disproportionately poor or from low-income areas,” said Tim Kane, an economist who headed the Heritage Foundation study. “They look a lot like America.”


Here is a look at the 15 counties in Washington state with the highest recruitment rates based on the National Priorities Project’s analysis including the actual number of recruits, the recruitment rate per 1,000 youths and the poverty rate of the county:

County/Recruits/Recruitment Rate (%)/Poverty Rate (%)

Garfield / 4 / 16.1 /13.3
Wahkiakum / 5 / 14.4 / 9.7
Kitsap / 245 / 9.8 / 8.2
Lincoln / 9 / 9.1 / 11.8
Pend Oreille / 11 / 8.5 / 15.4
Thurston / 196 / 8.3 / 8.6
Ferry / 7 / 8.2 / 19.1
Pierce / 659 / 8.1 / 9.8
Benton / 127 / 7.5 / 9.4
Clark / 291 / 7.4 / 9.6
Cowlitz / 72 / 7.4 / 12.5
Island / 63 / 7.4 / 7.8
Grays Harbor / 55 / 7.3 / 15.2
Stevens / 32 / 7.2 / 15.1
Mason / 39 / 6.8 / 11.9


Here are the number of recruits from individual South Sound high schools. The number includes Army, Air Force, and Marine recruits. The Navy does not keep school-by-school figures.

Stadium 6
Wilson 6
Mt. Tahoma 10
Lincoln 13
Henry Foss 10
Franklin Pierce 13
Fife 13
Clover Park 23
Lakes 18
Bethel 30
Spanaway Lake 40
Emerald Ridge 9
Puyallup 18
Gig Harbor 9
Peninsula 19
Sumner 26
Curtis 14
Decatur 13
Federal Way 5
Thomas Jefferson 11
Auburn 13
Auburn Riverside 13
North Thurston 13
River Ridge 17


Here are the recruitment rates (%) for the top 10 states:

Montana 8.1
Hawaii 7.3
Alabama 7.0
Oklahoma 6.8
South Carolina 6.7
Virginia 6.6
Alaska 6.6
Texas 6.5
Maine 6.4
Washington 6.2


Here are the number of recruits from selected Central Washington high schools. The number includes Army, Air Force, and Marine recruits. The Navy does not keep school-by-school numbers:

Richland 18
Kennewick 13
Kamiakin 12
Hanford 6
South Ridge 11
River View 1
Kiona-Benton City 3
Prosser 12
Columbia (Burbank) 3
Othello 5
Sunnyside 7

--Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



By Ann Scott Tyson

** Recruits' Job Worries Outweigh War Fears **

Washington Post
November 4, 2005
Page A01

[PHOTO CAPTION: Sgt. Michael Ricciardi talks with high school senior Davey Brooks, who plans to join the Army.]

As sustained combat in Iraq makes it harder than ever to fill the ranks of the all-volunteer force, newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed, rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war.

More than 44 percent of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas, Pentagon figures show. In contrast, 14 percent come from major cities. Youths living in the most sparsely populated Zip codes are 22 percent more likely to join the Army, with an opposite trend in cities. Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and West (24 percent).

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.

"A lot of the high recruitment rates are in areas where there is not as much economic opportunity for young people," said Anita Dancs, research director for the NPP, based in Northampton, Mass.

Senior Pentagon officials say the war has had a clear impact on recruiting, with a shrinking pool of candidates forcing the military to accept less qualified enlistees -- and presumably many for whom military service is a choice of last resort. In fiscal 2005, the Army took in its least qualified group of recruits in a decade, as measured by educational level and test results. The war is also attracting youths driven by patriotism, including a growing fringe of the upper class and wealthy, but military sociologists believe that greater numbers of young people who would have joined for economic reasons are being discouraged by the prolonged combat.

The Pentagon Zip code data, applied for the first time to 2004 recruiting results, underscores patterns already suggested by anecdotal evidence, such as analysis of the home towns of troops killed in Iraq. Although still an approximation, the data offer a more detailed portrait of the socioeconomic status of the Americans most likely to serve today.

Tucked into the Piedmont foothills of southern Virginia, where jobs in the local economy are scarce as NASCAR fans are plentiful, Martinsville is typical of the lower-income rural communities across the nation that today constitute the U.S. military's richest recruiting grounds.

Albert Deal, 25, had struggled for years to hold onto a job in this rural Virginia community of rolling hills and shuttered textile mills. So when the lanky high school graduate got his latest pink slip, from a modular-homes plant, he took a hard look at his life. Then he picked up the phone and dialed the steadiest employer he knew: the U.S. Army.

Two weeks later, on Oct. 27, Deal sat in his parents' living room and signed one enlistment document after another as his fiancee, Kimbery Easter, somberly looked on.

"This is the police check," said Sgt 1st Class Christopher A. Barber, a veteran Army recruiter, leading Deal through the stack of paperwork. "This is the sex-offender check . . ." Barber spoke in a monotone, sounding like a tour guide who had memorized every word.

Left adrift, young people such as Deal "are being pushed out of their communities. They want to get away from intolerable situations, and the military offers them something different," said Morten G. Ender, a sociologist at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

To be sure, some young people who need jobs or college money also seek adventure and a chance to serve their country. Others come from towns with large bases or populations of veterans interwoven with a military culture that helps keep enlistments high. And a rising percentage of youth from wealthy areas is signing up, presumably for patriotic reasons.

But nationwide, data point above all to places such as Martinsville, where rural roads lined with pine and poplar trees snake through lonely, desolate towns, as the wellspring for the youth fighting America's wars.

"They are these untapped kids," Enders said, "that nobody found."


Barber palms the steering wheel of his gray Dodge Stratus as he drives northwest into the steeply undulating backcountry surrounding Martinsville, where he commands a recruiting station.

Barber's territory spans 862 square miles in one of the country's most productive recruiting regions. Roaming in and out of cell-phone range through tiny towns, Barber and his partner post Army brochures at mom-and-pop groceries, work the crowd at NASCAR races at the local track, and log more than 100 miles a day meeting potential recruits.

In fiscal 2005, the Army's worst year for recruiting since 1999, they signed up 94 percent of their target, a relatively high number in one of the Army's top recruiting regions.

"We were pretty much dead-on," said Barber of Miami, attributing his success in part to the region's shrinking job market and the inability of families to afford college. Unemployment in Martinsville was 12.1 percent in 2004. Median income is $27,000, with a poverty rate of 17.5 percent, 2000 census data show.

"The job market is dwindling, and it's hard for a young man or woman to find something other than the fast-food business," Barber says on the way to the one-story home of Mike McNeely, Deal's stepfather.

Still, many young people such as Deal exhaust other options before considering the Army, making today's recruits older on average. "These kids have tested the labor market and gone on to college but didn't perform well," said Curtis Gilroy, director of accessions for the Pentagon. From 2000 to 2004, the number of teenagers joining the military dropped, while 20- to 25-year-olds rose from 31 to 36 percent.

As his fiancee stares impassively at a TV soap opera, Deal cradles Kadence, her fussy 6-month-old daughter, and explains how he turned to the Army after doors kept slamming in his face.

"I tried anything and everything" to land a job, Deal said, ticking off glass and furniture companies and a local telemarketing firm. "No one ever called back." Divorced and the father of a 3-year-old son, Deal decided to call the recruiter because "it's a job to do," he said. "It's something to make a life of."

Sitting in a kitchen decorated with religious figurines, McNeely, 50, agrees. "You're not looking at a lot around here in terms of a future," said McNeely, who is disabled. He adds that the textile and furniture factories where he once worked have vanished or downsized.

But McNeely, Deal, and Easter are uneasy over the prospect that the job will lead to Iraq. "That bothers me a lot," said McNeely, saying that his wife also likes to have Deal "in hollerin' distance."

Kadence spits up, and Deal rushes to get a rag to wipe off her mother's pants. Easter now supports Deal, after being angry at first over his plans to join the Army. Still, she hesitates to marry him before he leaves for boot camp. Deal, who wants a job as a tank driver, says he hopes he won't deploy.

"Believe me, I don't want to go over there." But, he said, "that's the risk I take."


It's just after lunch at Magna Vista High School south of Martinsville. Sgt. Michael Ricciardi strides through the door and is ushered inside by a smiling woman signing in visitors. He is soon joking with kids heading to class, including several future soldiers.

"This is pretty much my 'anchor' school," said Ricciardi, Barber's partner, who spends hours each week handing out Frisbees and footballs in the hallways. "They know me pretty well."

In contrast to some schools around the country that limit access to recruiters, Magna Vista, where half of students receive financial aid or free lunch, welcomes them. School officials give recruiters a list of seniors to contact, and encourage upperclassmen to take a vocational test required by the military.

"We expose them to the fact that the military is there," said guidance counselor Karen Cecil. "We're setting the stage for [students] to know it's an option" especially as a way to afford college, she said.

Indeed, like many heavy recruiting areas, Martinsville has more people seeking Army jobs than are qualified for them. Army recruiters here turn away scores of interested youths because they fail vocational tests, physicals, or legal background checks. To fill its ranks nationwide, the Army in fiscal 2005 accepted its least qualified pool in a decade -- falling below quota in high school graduates (87 percent) and taking in more youths scoring in the lowest category of aptitude test (3.9 percent).

Support for military service among parents has dwindled nationwide, but many parents here view it as an opportunity, often phoning recruiters to urge them to enlist their children.

Senior Miyana Gravely, 17, had long talks with her mother before asking for approval to join the Army and go to boot camp last summer. "You can do it. I don't want you to grow up and say, 'Mama wouldn't let me,' " Gravely recalls her mother telling her.

Gravely sees soldiering as a ticket to an active life somewhere else. "I don't want to be one of the people still sitting around Martinsville," she said, adding she is contemplating airborne training and "wouldn't mind" going to Iraq.

Being black and female, Gravely contradicts a national decline over the past four years in the willingness of both blacks and women to consider military service -- a shift polls attribute to the U.S. anti-terrorism effort and perceived discrimination. Blacks fell from 22.3 percent of Army recruits in fiscal 2001 to 14.5 percent this year; Hispanics rose from 10.5 percent to 13.2 percent, and whites, from 60.2 percent to 66.9 percent. Women dropped from 20 percent to 18 percent.

Gravely is active in the school's large Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC), which draws 300 of the 1,200 students each year and works closely with recruiters. JROTC programs are prolific in Virginia and across the rural South.

"The parents heavily support it. We've kept a lot of kids from getting kicked out of school," said JROTC instructor John Truini.

The program gives students military ranks and strips them away if they break discipline. "I don't want to say [we] control the kids, but we have influence over them," Truini said.

Davey Brooks, 17, grew up on a small farm; he says JROTC "changed everything about my life." He joined JROTC in hopes the military could fulfill his dream of learning to fly -- "like 'Top Gun,' " he says.

Now, Brooks is "battalion commander" and leader of a nine-person Raider Team -- modeled after Army Rangers -- which competes in military skills such as evacuating casualties and orienteering. He plans a 20-year Army career.

"I want to be in the Army and fly whatever I can get my hands on," Brooks said. He is eager to go to Iraq as a pilot, although he admits to one drawback: He's scared of heights. "But when I'm up there," he predicts, "I'll feel like I'm free and I'm in control of everything."



National Priorities Project
November 1, 2005

Find out the number of new military recruits in 2004 coming from your high school, county, zip code and state. Get analysis with tables and charts explaining who these recruits are in terms of income levels, race/ethnicity and more.

To read an overview of military recruits and view tables and charts, click here.

Data and statistics are available by zip code, schools, county, and state on the NPP Database.

(Note: You will need Acrobat Reader to read and download these files.)


National Priorities Project
November 2005

The following presents some general data and statistics on military recruiting in fiscal year 2004.

For more information, charts and tables, go to

The summary data and statistics are for counties with four or more recruits who enlisted in the Army, Navy, or Air Force Active Duty, or Army Reserves. Recruitment rates are based on the number of recruits per thousand of the 18-24 year-old population.

♦ 156,261 people were recruited to serve in the military.

♦ County-level recruitment rates ranged from a high of 46.5 in Terrell County, Texas to a low of 1.1 in Uintah County, Utah.

♦ The largest number of the state’s recruits came from Los Angeles County, California (3723), Harris County, Texas (2186), and Maricopa County, Arizona (2019).

♦ 14 states were represented in the top 20 counties: Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

♦ 236 counties had a recruitment rate of at least 10 (meaning the three branches recruited approximately 1% of their young people).

♦ Nearly two-thirds of all recruits (64%) were from counties with median household incomes below the U.S. median. About one-third were from counties with a higher median household income. All of the top 20 counties had a median household income below the national median household income.

♦ 19 out of the top 20 counties had lower median household incomes than their respective state median household incomes. (As a whole, the county-level incomes averaged 70% of the state median income levels.)

♦ Blacks made up 18.5% of Navy recruits, 17.2% of Army recruits, and 14.2 % of Air Force recruits in 2004.

♦ 18 of the top 20 counties were nonmetropolitan and 2 were metropolitan (in Kansas and Kentucky).

♦ 11 of the 20 counties are considered completely rural.


National Priorities Project
November 2005

The summary data and statistics are for counties with four or more recruits who enlisted in the Army, Navy, or Air Force Active Duty, or Army Reserves. Recruitment rates are based on the number of recruits per thousand of the 18-24 year-old population.

♦ 3,942 people were recruited to serve in the military from Washington.

♦ County-level recruitment rates ranged from a high of 16.1 in Garfield County to a low of 2.0 in Whitman County.

♦ The largest number of the state’s recruits came from King County (755), Pierce County (659), and Snohomish County (428).

Top 15 Counties in Washington with the highest recruitment rate

Place/Number of Recruits/Recruitment Rate (per thousand youth)/Median Household Income/Child Poverty Rate (%)/Poverty Rate (%)/County Share of State Recruits (%)

U.S. / 156,261 / 5.2 / 43,052 / 18.9 / 12.1 / -
Washington / 3,942 / 6.2 / 44,252 / 15.2 / 10.9 / -
Garfield County / 4 / 16.1 / 33,103 / 14.1 / 13.3 / 0.1
Wahkiakum County / 5 / 14.4 / 39,387 / 12.2 / 9.7 / 0.1
Kitsap County / 245 / 9.8 / 49,870 / 10.3 / 8.2 / 6.2
Lincoln County / 9 / 9.1 / 36,546 / 15.4 / 11.8 / 0.2
Pend Oreille County / 11 / 8.5 / 33,009 / 22.6 / 15.4 / 0.3
Thurston County / 196 / 8.3 / 49,510 / 11.1 / 8.6 / 5.0
Ferry County / 7 / 8.2 / 29,680 / 23.5 / 19.1 / 0.2
Pierce County / 659 / 8.1 / 46,791 / 12.8 / 9.8 / 16.7
Benton County / 127 / 7.5 / 50,288 / 12.8 / 9.4 / 3.2
Clark County / 291 / 7.4 / 49,040 / 13.0 / 9.6 / 7.4
Cowlitz County / 72 / 7.4 / 39,410 / 16.7 / 12.5 / 1.8
Island County / 63 / 7.4 / 46,432 / 10.1 / 7.8 / 1.6
Grays Harbor County / 55 / 7.3 / 34,151 / 19.8 / 15.2 / 1.4
Stevens County / 32 / 7.2 / 34,792 / 20.4 / 15.1 / 0.8
Mason County / 39 / 6.8 / 40,045 / 16.8 / 11.9 / 1.0

Notes: Analysis was derived from data for fiscal year 2004 supplied by branches of the armed forces through FOIA requests as submitted by Peacework Magazine. Only counties that have 4 or more recruits are included. The Army, Navy and Air Force Active Duty and Army Reserves are included. Other parts of the armed forces are not included due to data limitations as provided (or not provided) by the armed forces. The recruitment rate is the number of recruits per thousand of 18-24 year-olds, population numbers from Census 2004 Population Estimates. Median household income, poverty rates, and child poverty rates are 2002, which is the most recent year available at county-level from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program.


By Tim Kane, Ph.D.

Heritage Foundation
Center for Data Analysis Report #05-08
November 7, 2005

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.”[1] This claim is frequently repeated by crit­ics of the war in Iraq.[2] Aside from the logical fal­lacy that a draft is less offensive to justice than a voluntary policy, Rangel’s assertions about the demographic makeup of the enlisted military are not grounded in fact.

Although all branches of the armed services have been able to meet recruiting goals in recent years, the Army’s difficulty in meeting its goal of 80,000 new soldiers in 2005 has been widely reported, and some view it as a symbol of the need to reinstate the draft. However, this shortfall should be placed in the proper context. The Army is pro­jected to fall just 7,000 (about 9 percent) short of its 2005 recruitment goal, which is less than 1 per­cent of the overall military of over 1 million person­nel. Furthermore, there is the unexpected rise in re-enlistment rates. In other words, the total force strength is about what it should be.

Since the draft was discontinued in 1973, all branches of the U.S. military have relied entirely on volunteers to fill their ranks. There are constant challenges in maintaining a balanced supply of recruits for force strength and composition, but three decades of experience confirms that the vol­untary policy works well, despite widespread skepticism in the early 1970s. The same cannot be said of a conscripted force, as evidenced by the backlash among troops and the public during the Vietnam conflict. Despite the Pentagon’s strong preference for an all-volunteer force, some politicians and many voters favor a draft.

A June 2005 Associate Press/Ipsos poll found that 27 percent of respondents supported “the reinstate­ment of the military draft in the United States.” Rein­statement of the draft was far more popular immediately following the September 11, 2001, ter­rorist attacks, when 76 percent of Americans sup­ported a renewed draft if “it becomes clear that more soldiers are needed in the war against terrorism.”[3]

Although Representative Rangel’s bill to reinstate the draft failed by a decisive vote of 402–2 in the House of Representatives in 2004, the issue will likely be considered again, especially if there are more terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Some motivations for the draft are entirely patriotic in the sense that they aim to protect America from aggressors. Others see the draft as an instrument of equality, as well as an instrument of pacifism.

Representative Rangel’s theory is that if all citi­zens faced equal prospects of dying in a conflict, support for that conflict would have to pass a higher standard. This theory assumes that the priv­ileged classes would be less willing to commit the nation to war if that conflict involved personal, familial, or class bloodshed. It also assumes that the existing volunteers are either ignorant or lack other options -- that is, they are involuntary participants. One way to test this thesis is to explore the demo­graphic patterns of enlisted recruits before and after the initiation of the global war on terrorism on September 11, 2001.

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.

Our analysis of the demographic composition of enlisted recruits vis-à-vis the general population considers the following characteristics:

--Household income,
--Level of education,
--Race/ethnicity, and
--Region/rural origin.

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 caricature of conscription -- a harsh reality of European militaries in the 18th and 19th centu­ries -- lives on in the popular imagination, but it does not accurately represent the all-volunteer U.S. military. Indeed, the U.S. military’s qualitative superiority is what makes it the most efficient and lethal combat force in history. In economic terms, high-skill human capital among troops makes the military more productive overall. There may be legitimate equity concerns that outweigh national security, but they will undoubtedly come at a cost or trade-off in productivity.

However, our research shows that the volunteer force is already equitable. That is, it is highly likely that reinstating the draft would erode military effectiveness, increase American fatalities, destroy personal freedom, and even produce a less socio­economically “privileged” military in the process.

In summary, we found that, on average, 1999 recruits were more highly educated than the equiv­alent general population, more rural and less urban in origin, and of similar income status. We did not find evidence of minority racial exploitation (by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). We did find evidence of a “Southern military tradition” in that some states, notably in the South and West, provide a much higher proportion of enlisted troops by population.

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.


We found that recruits tend to come from mid­dle-class areas, with disproportionately fewer from low-income areas. Overall, the income dis­tribution of military enlistees is more similar to than different from the income distribution of the general population.

Income was compared on a household basis, not an individual basis, meaning that recruits’ income was defined by their household of origin. This approach was used because youth are rarely pri­mary income earners, and many earn no income at all until after high school graduation. However, the household income of their area of origin does serve as a basis for assessing whether the military recruits come from disproportion­ately poor backgrounds.

Much of the analysis in this paper (including this section) uses five-digit Census ZIP code tabulation areas (ZCTAs) as the unit of analy­sis. The Census Bureau uses ZCTAs to approximate U.S. Postal Service ZIP codes. In most cases, ZCTAs correspond to postal ZIP codes. For example, Representative Rangel resides in the postal ZIP code 10037. The corresponding five-digit ZCTA 10037, shown in Figure 1, has a median household income of $26,561. In 1999, four recruits originated from the area, in 2003, the total was six recruits.

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.

Table 2 is a summary of ZCTA data ranked in order of population quintiles. In 1999 and 2003, the recruits generally mirror the percent distribution among the population, but the pattern shows clearly that there were fewer recruits from the poorest quin­tile of neighborhoods[4] (18.0 percent) and fewer from the richest quintile (18.6 percent) in 1999. In 2003, however, only 14.6 percent of military recruits came from the poorest quintile, whereas the wealth­iest quintile provided 22.0 percent. Enlistments from wealthier areas surged, resulting in a 3.4 per­centage point upturn. The middle-class quintiles (the third and fourth wealthiest areas) consistently provided disproportionately high numbers of sol­diers in both year groups. (See Chart 1.)

Some ZCTAs had higher median incomes than the national median, and some had lower. Chart 2 shows a percent distribution of 1999 recruits by ZCTA income, revealing that the bulk of recruits came from middle-class areas. 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.

The plain fact is that the income distribution of recruits is nearly identical to the income distribu­tion of the general population ages 18-24. Because we lack individualized household income data, our approach does not indicate whether or not the recruits came from the poorer households in their neighborhoods. Nevertheless, Chart 3 shows that the difference between the 1999 recruit distribution of ZCTA income and the population distribution is below a single percentage point for 19 of the 20 income brackets. Yet even these slight differences show a sub­tle pattern: Proportionally, both poorer and richer areas provide slightly fewer recruits, and middle-income areas provide slightly more.

This evidence directly contradicts Representative Rangel’s claim that under­privileged Americans are the source of military manpower and that the privileged are underrepresented. In fact, Chart 4 shows that every ZCTA income bracket below $40,000 provided the same number or fewer recruits after 9/11, while all brackets above $40,000 provided the same number or more.


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. Comparable detailed education data from the Census classify the educa­tion level of individuals into one of seven categories (from less than high school up to graduate/profes­sional degree). We generated a binary variable that assigns a 1 for individuals with a high school diploma or higher and a 0 for less than a high school diploma.

If one single statistic could settle this issue, it is this: 98 percent of all enlisted recruits who enter the military have an education level of high school graduate or higher, compared to the national aver­age of 75 percent.[5] In an education context, rather than attracting underprivileged young Americans, the military seems to be attracting above-average Americans. What remains to explore is whether this pattern of military enlistment is (1) consistent across ZIP codes, (2) consistent across all branches of service, and/or (3) consistent proportionally across all levels of education.

The claim could still be made that highly edu­cated recruits are being pulled from underprivi­leged areas, marked by below-average high school graduation rates. Further analysis shows that any such claim would also be incorrect. We used the binary measure to make a ZIP code–level compari­son. By comparing the records of 183,288 individ­ual recruits from the 1999 cohort, using ZIP code of origin, against other Census populations by ZIP code, our analysis shows that roughly half (48.5 percent) of enlistees came from three-digit ZCTAs with above-average national graduation rates. The other half of enlistees came from areas with below-average high school graduation rates.

Regardless of ZIP code area, we also find that enlistees are almost universally better educated than the general population. In all but one of the 885 three-digit ZCTAs, the graduation rate for 1999 recruits was higher than the graduation rate for non-recruits ages 18–24. In 2003, recruits had a higher graduation rate in every ZCTA. Figure 2, by using a gray scale to show the intensity of the educational gap, clearly shows that recruits are often better educated than the general population.

Given the nature of the military rank structure, most enlisted recruits do not have a college educa­tion or degree. Members of the armed forces with higher education are more often commissioned officers (i.e., lieutenant and above). Compared to the general population, a lower percentage of enlisted recruits have an educational level of 4 (some college/no degree) through 7 (graduate or professional degree), and a lower percentage of recruits are in the two lowest educational levels. Chart 6 shows the distributions for each branch of the military and the general population. The simi­larity among branches stands out, with the minor distinction that the Army has a slightly higher per­centage (2.7 percent) of enlisted recruits with a bachelor’s degree than the other branches.

After September 11, 2001, the educational quality of recruits rose slightly. Comparing 1999 enlisted recruits to 2003 recruits showed an increase in col­legiate experience. In 2003, a higher proportion of recruits had college experience and diplomas, and a lower percentage had only a high school diploma -- a shift of about 3 percentage points. Furthermore, this figure is not subject to statistical significance tests because it measures the entire recruit popula­tion, not just a sample of it. Therefore, we can say definitively that enlistee quality actually increased between 1999 and 2003. (See Chart 7.)


We found that whites are one of the most pro­portionally represented groups -- making up 77.4 percent of the population and 75.8 percent of all recruits -- whereas other racial categories are often represented in noticeably higher and lower propor­tions than the general population.

This kind of racial analysis is complicated by the fact that race is a self-identified attribute that is not well defined genetically, and many citizens object to racial classification, which complicates government efforts to categorize racial and ethnic identity consistently. Specifically, race data for the population in 2000 are not compatible with the 1999 recruit cohort but are compatible with the 2003 cohort. The 1999 recruit data allow for only one race category per person, whereas 2003 recruit and Census data follow a system that both allows each individual to self-identify any combi­nation of six racial categories and includes an independent Hispanic indicator.

The following analysis of race is based on a com­parison of the 2003 recruit data and Census popu­lation data for ages 18 and above (not just 18–24). Table 3 provides a summary of racial data, reveal­ing that enlisted recruits are similar to the popula­tion with a few sharp differences. Table 3 also includes a breakout comparison of the 2003 Army recruits, since that branch bears a larger share of danger on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, the data show that, proportionally, blacks make up 43 percent more of the Army recruits than does the general population, but this is not in place of whites, who make up 1 percent more (not less). Other racial categories -- notably American Indians/Alaskan Natives (53 percent) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders (249 percent) -- are even more overrepresented.

A military draft along the lines proposed by Rep­resentative Rangel would press thousands more Asian-Americans into service, as well as thousands of Americans who decline to be racially categorized. In contrast, a draft could deny blacks, whites, and others the freedom to enlist in the Army once their racial quotas were filled.

We next considered the “underprivileged source” hypothesis. We know from earlier analysis that recruiting is not concentrated in poor neigh­borhoods (ZCTAs), but perhaps it is disproportion­ately concentrated in black neighborhoods.

The 100 three-digit ZCTAs with the highest con­centration of blacks (in any combination of other races) range from 24.05 percent up to 68.63 per­cent self-identified as black. These areas have 14.63 percent of the adult population but are the origin of only 16.58 percent of 1999 recruits and 14.09 per­cent of 2003 recruits. Moreover, 2003 recruits from these “black” areas included an almost equal num­ber of white and black recruits (45.7 percent and 46 percent of the total, respectively). The group of ZCTAs with the highest concentration of whites had almost 46 times as many white recruits as black recruits. Among the ZCTAs that had the highest number of recruits, the ratio was almost 4:1. If the military were to draw disproportionately from minority groups by design, one would expect fewer white recruits from minority-concentrated areas and more minority recruits from the white-concentrated areas.

The demographic data on race reveal that mili­tary enlistees are not, in fact, more heavily recruited from black neighborhoods. The data also reveal that minorities serve in different proportions, but not because fewer whites are serving. In other words, there is no “dispro­portionate share of minor­ities” serving in the military, as claimed by edi­torials around the nation in 2003.[6] Some minorities participate more heavily than other minorities.

Race is often used as a proxy for class, but it is rarely, if ever, an appropri­ate substitute. Even if the military had a higher share of African–Americans, it does not follow that those recruits are poorer, from poorer areas, from more urbanized areas, less edu­cated, or from less educated areas. Indeed, none of these other claims can be substantiated.


This section focuses on two questions of regional concentration of enlisted recruits. First, we asked whether recruits come predominately from urban areas. Second, we asked whether troops enlist pre­dominately from Southern areas.

In April 2005, the Chicago Tribune cited a statistic that 35 percent of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan were from small, rural towns, in con­trast to 25 percent of the population.[7] This point runs counter to the picture, painted by Rangel and others, of heavy enlistment reliance on poor, black urban neighborhoods. Indeed, recruits are dispro­portionately rural, not urban, and as rural concen­tration[8] rises, so does military enlistment.

Specifically, 80 percent of recruits come from areas that have a rural concentration of less than 0.5, meaning that they come from areas where more than half of the population is urbanized. The overall population is slightly more urbanized, with 84 percent of Americans ages 18–24 in sim­ilar areas. Table 4 shows the distribution of 32,243 five-digit ZCTAs. (Recruits who listed five-digit ZIP codes that are not listed as Census ZCTAs were excluded.)

The constant increase in the recruit/population ratio contradicts the assertion that military recruit­ing targets youth in inner cities. In fact, entirely urban areas are the area most underrepresented among recruits. Both suburban and rural areas are overrepresented.

Although this may not reflect Representative Ran­gel’s desire that military demographics precisely mir­ror the population, the overrepresentation of rural areas should be viewed as beneficial from an eco­nomic perspective. Rural areas generally offer a less flexible, thinner job market. The military extends job opportunities into these areas, with technical training that is usually unavailable otherwise.


The South is overrepresented among military recruits. It provided 42.2 percent of 1999 recruits and 41.0 percent of 2003 recruits but contained just 35.6 percent of the population ages 18-24. How­ever, other regions also provide a higher proportion of enlistees. The states with the highest enlistment propor­tional ratings by far are Mon­tana (1.67), Alaska (1.42), Wyoming (1.40), and Maine (1.39). (A proportional rating of 1.00 means that a state’s enlistee and general popula­tions ages 18–24 are exactly proportional to their respec­tive national populations.)

This section utilizes the “home-of-record” ZIP code of recruits to assess the regional origin of military members. The home-of-record ZIP code represents the area where individual recruits resided upon enlistment, not their location after enlistment. We calculated and analyzed a regional distribution of recruits by state and region for comparison to similar distri­butions of the general population.

In addition to confirming the strong Southern military tradition, we also found an exceptional ten­dency for lower than average military participation in New England. The West was underrepresented among 1999 recruits, but its 2003 proportion was equal to the population. For example, the East North Central Census region, conventionally known as the Great Lakes states, had a proportional rating of 0.86, which rose to 0.93 after September 11, 2001. This implies a lower than average interest in joining the military in the region compared to the nation, but it may reflect other variables as well (e.g., relative health and fitness of potential recruits). Table 5 shows the proportions for each region.

On the state level, 20 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were underrepresented with proportional ratios below 1.0. Table 6 pro­vides complete state-level data. Of note, this table shows that certain states had a higher enlistment proportion after the terrorist attacks. One might expect the states where the attacks took place to respond with higher enlistment proportions. On the contrary, New York’s enlistment proportion ratio was 0.86 in 1999 and 0.79 in 2003. In Vir­ginia, the ratio dropped from 1.27 to 1.23.

Due to the lack of comparable data for other years, it is unclear whether this movement is signif­icant or even suggestive of a pattern. However, states with the most positive upward movement in their enlistment ratios after the war on terrorism began were Iowa (+0.21), Wisconsin (+0.17), Kan­sas (+0.16), Washington (+0.15), and Arizona (+0.14).

The variation by state shows that the military is somewhat distinct from the young adult popula­tion in terms of geographic composition. However, there is very little variation in geographic origin between 1999 recruits and 2003 recruits, which suggests that the war on terrorism had little effect on the regional demographics of recruits.


A large shift in public opinion about the desir­ability of a military draft occurred in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Most Ameri­cans instinctively rallied to the flag and wanted to do everything to protect the nation. As a result, the draft became one of the issues that received renewed emotional support. Support eroded in succeeding polls, as evidenced by the fact that 70 percent of Americans currently oppose reinstate­ment of the draft. This sentiment is especially strong among the young.

We know that the Pentagon strongly prefers a voluntary force. However, support for a draft will likely surge again if, or when, America suffers addi­tional terrorist attacks. Emotion and reason agree on the necessity of defeating terrorism, but reason demands that the conflict be fought as effectively as possible, and that may require policymakers to resist popular calls for a draft.

This paper reviews the demographic status of the all-volunteer military and refutes the claim that enlisted troops are underprivileged and come from underprivileged areas. In terms of education, household income, race, and home origin, the troops are more similar than dissimilar to the gen­eral population.

Put simply, the current makeup of the all-vol­untary military looks like America. Where they are different, the data show that the average sol­dier is slightly better educated and comes from a slightly wealthier, more rural area. We found that the military (and Army specifically) included a higher proportion of blacks and lower propor­tions of other minorities but a proportionate num­ber of whites. More important, we found that recruiting was not drawing disproportionately from racially concentrated areas.

Perhaps more could be done to dismantle the claim that an all-volunteer military relies dispro­portionately on ignorant, black, poor, urban young citizens in America, but the evidence already clearly shows this claim to be hollow.

Nevertheless, the Army is facing a shortage of new recruits for the recruiting year that ended in September. The shortage is minor -- about 7,000 less than the goal of 80,000 new recruits -- in a mil­itary with over 1 million members, but it will fuel ongoing calls for a military draft. Policymakers should remember that recruiting was also difficult in 1999 (when the economy was strong), but not so difficult in 2002–2004, in the immediate wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The Department of Defense reported 352,839 appli­cants for active component enlistment in fiscal year 2003, and it accepted 176,408.[9]

Logically, this suggests that if terrorists strike America again, young Americans will be more— not less—willing to volunteer for military service. We can also anticipate that successful terrorist attacks will result in a resurgence of popular sup­port for a draft. All Americans hope that day will never come, but if it does, Congress needs to remain steadfast in opposing coerced conscription and expose the myths of racial and class exploita­tion in military recruiting.

--Tim Kane, Ph.D., is Bradley Fellow in Labor Pol­icy in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. The quantitative research effort for this piece was largely the work of Alana Finley, who has the author’s heartfelt thanks. Any mistakes in the analysis are entirely the author’s.