October 31, 2006
Washington, October 31, 2006-Wartime recruits who joined the United States military in 2004 and 2005 tended to be better educated and wealthier than their civilian peers, according to a new report from The Heritage Foundation.
Economist Timothy Kane studied recruiting information to determine where service members are from, how much their families earn and what their education level is. His research follows up on a similar paper he wrote last year and shows that the trend toward better-quality recruits has actually accelerated in the years since 9/11.
This disproves the idea, expressed on Oct. 30 by Sen. John Kerry, that only those who fail in school end up in the military. "If you study hard, do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," the former presidential candidate told college students.
Yet even "as the conflict in Iraq continues, youth from wealthy areas continue to volunteer for duty despite increased risk," Kane says. In fact, the data show recruits from wealthy families are actually overrepresented in today's military, while the only income group that's lowering its participation in the military is the poor. "This evidence suggests that the United States is not sending the poor to die for the interests of the rich," he says.
Kane, himself an Air Force veteran, broke recruiting information down by four characteristics: household income, level of education, race/ethnicity and regional origin.
"Like their peers in 1999 and 2003, recruits in 2004 and 2005 came primarily from middle-class areas," Kane found. In fact, 2004 recruits came from neighborhoods with an average household income of $43,122. Last year that figure rose to $43,238, more than $2,000 higher than the 1999 average of $41,141 (in constant dollars).
Kane also notes that military recruits tend to be better educated than the public at large. At least 90 percent of enlistees, for example, have a high-school diploma, while the national high school graduation rate is 75 percent. In addition, "the mean reading level of 2004 recruits is a full grade level higher than that of the comparable youth population," he writes.
When it comes to race, "the enlisted ranks are not disproportionately composed of minorities," Kane found. Whites serve in numbers almost equal to their percentage of the population. And while blacks are somewhat overrepresented, "their representation has decreased during the wartime years and is much closer to being proportional in 2005 than it was in 2003."