Rangel: Those With Decent Career Options Don’t Join Military

New York Congressman Charlie Rangel was on Fox News Sunday yesterday continuing to flog his faux “plan” to initiate a draft. He rejected Chris Wallace’s citation of Heritage Foundation statistics showing that Army recruits are more educated and come from more affluent backgrounds than the population as a whole:

I want to make it abundantly clear: if there’s anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.

AllahPundit has the video.

I wrote about the Heritage report almost exactly a year ago.

  • 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.
  • 98% joined with high-school diplomas or better. By comparison, 75% of the general population meets that standard. Among all three-digit ZIP code areas in the USA in 2003 (one can study larger areas by isolating just the first three digits of ZIP codes), not one had a higher graduation rate among civilians than among its recruits.
  • 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.
  • 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.

I closed the post with this:

These data notwithstanding, this myth will continue as the conventional wisdom. Mostly, I suspect, this is because elite journalists and other opinion shapers simply can not fathom why anyone would willingly volunteer for military service if they had other options.

Rangel, who has been touting this draft non-option for years, was one of the targets of my criticism. A draftee himself, it is inconceivable to him that people would join the military if they had options.

To be fair, many people do enlist for the educational benefits and other incentives. One only has to look at the recruiting commercials to know this. Only the Marines challenge people to arduous service. The others emphasize training, benefits, or adventure. Many, many people join the military, especially the Army, for motivations other than patriotism, let alone the desire to fight.

Still, it is absurd to suggest that people are joining up during wartime oblivious to the risks involved, let alone doing so because they couldn’t find a decent job on the outside. Anyone with the fitness, education, and clean record required to qualify for military service could find work that does not involve getting shot at. Our unemployment rate is at historic lows and the pay of junior enlisted personnel is not exactly lavish.

People join the military, as with any other job, for a variety of reasons. Sure, not too many people with multi-million dollar contracts from the National Football League on the table or with great jobs at Goldman-Sachs join up. But everyone who does has other options. The risk of dying in combat, though, is outweighed for many by the sense of pride, adventure, and duty that comes with service. And, frankly, the calculus of the young is far different from that of the middle aged in such matters.

UPDATE: As to the Heritage study, I should note that comparing recruits to the general population, rather than their generational cohort, is somewhat problematic. Presumably, a larger percentage of 18 to 24-year-olds are high school graduates than those in the over-50 generations, for example. It should also be noted that the statistics are somewhat skewed when one combines all the services rather than isolating the Army, which does the bulk of the fighting and absorbs almost all the casualties. Even factoring these considerations in, however, the Army draws its recruits from a wide swath of society, with the very poorest and dumbest as well as the very richest and smartest underrepresented in the enlistee pool.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JimT says:

    I would further argue that Mr. Rangel’s suggestion that no one would do anything dangerous if they had other options could be extended to include Policemen, Firemen, or even Lifeguards (How could anyone believe a young man would willingly choose to risk drowning to save some moron who swam too far from shore, when he could be safely flipping burgers?)

    Sarcastically Yours,
    jimT

  2. DC Loser says:

    Ah, more statistics being cited to back a point. Funny you should spew all these number when you just posted this a few items ago:

    “Statistics seem like straightforward, unambiguous facts; they’re not. Care is required not only in their gathering but also in your interpretation of them.”

    Keep this in mind next time you read about some statistic. Even though it might fit your world view, it could still hold some bits of information that would lead to a different conclusion.

  3. James Joyner says:

    DCL:

    Actually, Steve Verdon posted that.

    I don’t disagree that statistics can be misconstrued but you have to actually explain how that might be the case in a particular instance to rebut them. I have, however, added an update with cautionary considerations.

  4. Cernig says:

    Hi James,

    I too posted about the Heritage Foundation’s study at the time. I noticed that their definition of “middle class” was that family income be in the $30,000 to $200,000 range. The report states:

    “The poorest neighborhoods provided 18 percent of recruits in prewar 1999 and 14.6 percent in 2003. By contrast, areas where household incomes ranged from $30,000 to $200,000 provided more than 85 percent.”

    The Heritage report states that median household income for all enlisted recruits in 1999 was $41,141, compared with the national median of $41,994. By 2003, the recruit household income reached $42,822, when adjusted for inflation. That doesn’t sound like a hell of a lot of those recruits came from the $200,000 end of the Foundation’s ‘middle-class’ bracket.

    I also noted that, just days before, Military.com was making mention of a different study:

    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.

    The U.S. military has long been considered a step away from economic hardship, a trend that is apparently continuing.

    Hmmmm.

    Regards, C

  5. James Joyner says:

    Cernig,

    Recruits come disproportionately from the South and rural areas, which are generally less wealthy than the urban areas. The household level data, though, would seem to show that they come from median economic backgrounds. It seems that military.com and the National Priorities Project are falling prey to the ecological fallacy.

    And, obviously, we’re going to be looking at family income rather than individual income. For one thing, that’s how we mostly track economic data in the U.S. For another, most recruits are teens right out of high school going after their first real job.

  6. cynthia Pierson says:

    Those stats are just plain wrong! There is absolutely NO WAY that they can be reconciled with what is really going on. I happen to be in a unique situation to see it from both sides in the fairly rural state of Kentucky. The overwhelming majority of kids here that join up are desperate. They all admit it! They know that there is a good chance they can be killed, but don’t think it will be them…..They don’t read papers…some of them can barely read…..They mostly have NO idea what is going on, or why. They just know that the recruiter told them that they could get money for school, and a chance to get some sort of job when they get out. The military is taking any warm body it can find, and believe me….it is not anybody with any hope whatsoever! Rangal is right. The Heritage Foundation can hardly be trusted to come up with numbers that disprove their prejudices. BTW…I am glad I found this site….I don’t agree with you very often, but it is a pleasure to find a site where a lot of thoughtful points are given, and the name calling is kept to a minimum.

  7. LJD says:

    Why so hard for DCL, Cernig, cynthia, et al to accept that some young people in this country actually WANT to contribute to something larger than themselves?

    The ‘fairly rural’ State of Kentucky is the home of Airborne Infantry and the Cavalry. These are not MOSs with very large bonuses, but they ARE high speed, low drag combat units. The type of units that the classic liberal concept of recruit- an underpriviledged minority- might want to avoid. But there they are, serving their country.

    Only the Marines challenge people to arduous service.

    Army Strong?

    If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.

    I guess, then, Rangel has obligated himself to suicide.

  8. Bandit says:

    Those stats are just plain wrong!

    Based on your nonexistent research..

    The overwhelming majority of kids here that join up are desperate. They all admit it!

    Then wouldn’t they all be desperate? They must be desperate because of the 4.4% unemployment rate. Which is by state 2.8 in Utah, 3.1 in ND, 3.2 in NH, SD, VA, 3.3 in AL and ID, a staggering 5.3 in KY.

    They don’t read papers…some of them can barely read…..They mostly have NO idea what is going on, or why.

    Talk about your liberal condescension…they all graduated from HS but they can’t read? They have no idea what’s going on? But they’re worried about somebody else getting killed?

    The Heritage Foundation can hardly be trusted to come up with numbers that disprove their prejudices.

    Speak for yourself…

    Rangal is right.

    Well at least you and Rangel are out front about saying that you think all the recruits are losers and you don’t bother with the ‘But we support the troops’ lies.

  9. madmatt says:

    Of course until last year you needed a high school diploma or GED to enlist in the first place…now that they have lowered the standards I am sure you will see some dramatic changes.

  10. madmatt says:

    heritage foundation…yes all those trustworthy stats from the chickenhawk coop.

  11. JimT says:

    Ms. Pierson –
    Although I do not concede that the Heretage numbers are wrong. I will put that arguement aside and ask – “How can Rangel be right?”. It is my understanding that Mr. Rangle’s draft proposal will somehow relieve this disparity. How would that be done? Do you balance the numbers by just drafting non-minorities with a combined household income above a certain level? Once you achieve this parity, how do you maintain it? Would there be a cap on how many poor or minority could voluntarily enlist? What then would these desperate youths in Kentucky do?
    v/r
    jimT

  12. DC Loser says:

    This was from an article in the WaPo a few weeks ago, about the new director of the city’s metro.

    He said in an interview that he grew up poor. “But we always had food. We always had clothes,” he said. His parents gave him a lot of love, he said, but they didn’t stress education. Catoe dropped out of Spingarn Senior High School as a senior because he wasn’t motivated. It was 1964. The United States was about to escalate its involvement in the Vietnam War.

    “I decided I wanted to go into the Army,” Catoe said. But the recruiter placed him in a Reserve unit in Rockville. That experience changed his life.

    For six months, he went through basic and medical training. “I didn’t think I was very bright,” he said. But he was excelling on the medical training tests, and that was a huge confidence boost.

    He also met people “whose background and experiences were different from mine growing up,” he said. One man’s father was a vice president at Sears, Roebuck and Co. Another’s was an ambassador.

    “I wanted to be more like that,” he recalled. “That was the point of change. That was when I went back to high school. That was the door opener.”

    How likely is an enlistee in today’s army to serve with people from society’s cross-section like that?

  13. DaveF says:

    More current data than the Heretage report is available, though less detail. Reference the this blog post.

    Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel has access to the core recruitment data, and he notes to major points:
    1. military dose draw more from upper/middle class
    2. military draws predominantly from the upper half of aptitude ranges.

    So neither dumb nor poor.

  14. just me says:

    Madmatt can you link to where the Army is no longer requiring high school or GED?

    Back in the 90’s they would rarely accept you with just a GED-they often required some attempt at junior college-the main exception being an extremely high score on the ASVAB.

    As for the contention that recruits can’t read-the recruits do have to take a test, which would pretty much weed out the non readers.

    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.

    This is misleading, because a national median doesn’t reflect cost of living in rural and especially rural southern states. In many places of Alabama (and Kentucky where I grew up) you could buy a home with a relatively modest income. When we lived in Virginia, my husbands 30k a year military salary easily purchased a home in rural Virginia about 20 minutes from his base.

    So while 30k a year may be difficult in many urban areas, it is possible to make a living, buy a home, and raise children on it, and be pretty comfortable-not wealthy, but comfortable.

    As for motivations for joining up-in general I suspect it is a combination or factors, but when my husband served (before Iraq II, but enlisted just before Iraq I), I don’t recall a single person we knew saying he joined up out of desperation or because he was poor. My husband was a nuke-most of them joined up due to some combination of patriotism and a desire to be in that specific program. My husband enlisted specifically for the nuke training, and he contacted the recruiter, he wasn’t contacted.

    I am pretty sure there are many people who join up for the education programs available, but I don’t think they do so blindly at this point, or because they absolutely have no other way to attend college.

  15. LJD says:

    How likely is an enlistee in today’s army to serve with people from society’s cross-section like that?

    Very likely. Care to share your personal experience to the contrary, or do you just function on liberal myths?

  16. DC Loser says:

    LJD – I don’t know what your problem is. You sure like to paint a broad stoke with your “one color fits all” brush. I have been in, and worked around the military since 1983, as an officer and as a civilian in unit, command and national levels. In the 80s, I was working on nuclear weapons systems, so my exposure was to very intelligent enlistees who scored very high on their ASVABs. And, NO, I’ve never served with the son of a major fortune 500 company or ambassador. Nearly everyone of my colleagues came from the middle or lower middle class. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for people of all economic grounds to serve together for the country. Right now, I fear most people in this country forget there’s a war on. Look at the people lining up this past weekend to buy things at the mall. Where’s the call to sacrifice? Should that burden only be on the backs of those in the military while the rest of the country can pretend to carry on as if there’s no war? I live with the war everyday, so maybe that’s why I’m just a little peeved by the “all is well” attitude.

  17. James Joyner says:

    DCL: One man’s father was a vice president at Sears, Roebuck and Co. Another’s was an ambassador. . . . . How likely is an enlistee in today’s army to serve with people from society’s cross-section like that?

    It wasn’t particularly likely in 1964, either, certainly not 1968. Mostly, those kids were officers or were able to get an educational deferment.

    When I was in from 1988-92, many of those I served with came from upper class backgrounds. They were young officers, though, not enlistees. One of my fellow LT’s had a dad who was a VP at Chrysler. Others were wealthy businessmen.

  18. DC Loser says:

    James – you went to USMA, correct? Most of my fellow officers were ROTC or OTS commissioned, and not one of them could be called “wealthy.”

  19. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Right now, I fear most people in this country forget there’s a war on. Look at the people lining up this past weekend to buy things at the mall. Where’s the call to sacrifice? Should that burden only be on the backs of those in the military while the rest of the country can pretend to carry on as if there’s no war? I live with the war everyday, so maybe that’s why I’m just a little peeved by the “all is well” attitude.

    Of course, with a draft, even one with no deferments, it would just be very young making those sacrifices. Almost everyone at the mall would be at the mall.

    Further, as I’ve noted in rebuttal to the “chicken hawk” argument, nobody seems to mind that police officers, firefighters, and the like take on risks that the rest of society does not. Nor did anyone seem to mind that only physically fit young males served in the military during the draft era.

    The bottom line is that this ain’t the Civil War or WWII. The reason people act as if there’s no war going on is that we have an all-volunteer force with 150,000 soldiers deployed to a stabilization and counterinsurgency operation that has cost fewer American lives than D-Day. That should no more derail Americans’ shopping habits than the fact that millions are starving in Africa should impact our holiday feasts.

    What does sadden me is that, working as a DoD contractor, I never got a sense from most of those working day-to-day in support of our troops really “got” that we are at war, either. To them, “warfighter” is just a buzzword.

  20. James Joyner says:

    DCL:

    I went to USMA but didn’t graduated and was commissioned via ROTC.

    One of my former USMA classmates, who happened to get assigned to my artillery battalion, had a dad who was a Chrysler VP. His sister also graduated USMA and served. A couple other LT’s in my battalion, both ROTC grads, came from pretty well-off backgrounds.

    Most of us, including most of the USMA grads, came from middle class or lower-middle class backgrounds. My dad was a retired Army E-8 working as a civil servant. Still, the officer corps draws from a fairly wide swath.

  21. LJD says:

    Well DC, if the shoe fits… You seem to be working awfully hard to discount the facts as I know them, from this decade.

    Ironic that these incredibly intelligent people you worked with could not find some means of income in the civilian world. Maybe not THAT smart, or to prove my point, they CHOSE to serve, regardless.

    I do agree that our citizenry should be more involved in the war. Our media is definitely not doing an accurate job of informing them.

  22. DC Loser says:

    I’m shaking my head. What part of “opportunity” does LJD not understand? My troops were indeed smart, but they needed the boost from military service to get the training they received for a higher paying job once their enlistment was over. Do you remember what the economy in 1983 was like? It sucked! I joined the AF in part because there were no engineering jobs after I graduated, and it was a way for me to get work right away that otherwise wasn’t available to me at the time. Turns out everything worked out well for me in the end, but I and many others did view the military as a way to pay the bills. And yes, it also allowed us to serve the country, not that the two are exclusive to each other.

  23. LJD says:

    Keep shaking. Reality may sink in.

  24. Cernig says:

    Why so hard for DCL, Cernig, cynthia, et al to accept that some young people in this country actually WANT to contribute to something larger than themselves?

    LJD, I said no such thing, nor would I. What I did do was cite another set of statistics and questioned the broad-brush definition of middle-class income used by the Heritage Foundation, suggesting that they used such a broad brush purely so that their figures would definitely support their prior agenda. I don’t like seeing bad methodology unquestioningly taken as gospel, no matter who is doing it.

    Would you care to retract?

    Regards, Cernig

  25. cynthia Pierson says:

    LJD….You are right, I have no stats to back up what I am seeing in my little part of the world. KY has the 2nd worst public school system in the country. Yes, many kids graduate and cannot functionally read. Recruiting here is very heavy-handed. Yes, many in the South have a long history of military service to their country. The young people I am seeing are not joining through any sence of patriotism. Many of them, while uneducated are not dumb. They know this is not a war to be proud of. What bothers me is the constant refrain by many that the only way to serve your country is to be a warrior. The old Peace Corps and other programs are almost extinct, so perhaps there are a lot of youth that think it is all they can do for their country.

  26. geezer says:

    DCL: “Turns out everything worked out well for me in the end, but I and many others did view the military as a way to pay the bills. And yes, it also allowed us to serve the country, not that the two are exclusive to each other.” I have absolutely no problem with these sentences. Why can’t you let it go at that? With an all-volunteer force, service to country via the military is one of many options. Certainly, your previous experience tells you that military service is NOT for everybody, else we wouldn’t have had to kick so many out for one reason or another.

    cynthia Pierson: we can respect your corner of the world, but still disagree based on a view of the whole 50 states that make up our country. Would you at least agree that young people are prone to make many mistakes (be it career, marriage, parenthood, etc.,) that are no fault of the gov’t, war, politics, etc.,? Not all Kentuckians who decide to join the military wind up serving in Iraq. Is there something wrong with those who wind up in Europe, Asia or right here at home?

  27. floyd says:

    cynthia; if they can barely read; what business do they have in college, money or no money?

  28. just me says:

    Cynthia I have a hard time believing that every new recruit from the whole state of Kentucky joined up solely because they were illiterate and desperate. Your brush is too broad, and I suspect a bit filtered through the “nobody would join the military, unless they had to” lens.

    I grew up in Kentucky, and yes it is a rural state, and yes the education system sucks, and hasn’t gotten much better since attempts back in the 90’s to fix it, but the reality is that if a recruit is illiterate, he is unlikely to score well on the ASVAB, and is unlikely to get in the military anyway.

    And I agree with the above post, if they are illiterate, do they actually belong in collega anymore than they belong in the military? And I suspect the Peace Corps isn’t begging for illiterate recruits either.

  29. LJD says:

    We seem to be drifting away from the substance of this post (with all of these statistical diversions and personal experiences) the liberal belief that the military is a bunch of poor idiots with no place else to go.

    How’s that for a broad brush? If you disagree, then re-read comments by Kerry and others proving my point.

  30. DC Loser says:

    http://www.libertypost.org/cgi-bin/readart.cgi?ArtNum=48151

    “I had other priorities in the 60’s than military service.”

    Now who said that?