The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a study detailing the demographics of the U.S. military. The study was undertaken in response to a request by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), who in December 2002 claimed that "[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."
The GAO study surveys a number of Department of Defense (DOD) personnel issues and does not support Representative Rangel's claims that poor minorities are disproportionately represented. A similar study by The Heritage Foundation, which will be published this month, is more definitive in answering the question of new enlistees and their "privileged" status. The Heritage Foundation study analyzes DOD data on all non- prior-service enlistees for the years 1999 and 2003 by income, education, and race. Studying the home-of-record ZIP codes of enlistees, we also identify the states and regions providing the most enlistees, and changes since September 11, 2001.
Income. According to the 2000 Census, national median income for all U.S. households was $41,994 in 1999 (all figures use 1999 dollars), compared to a mean household income of $41,141 for homes of recruits of that year. We calculate recruit income by using the median household income of the five-digit ZIP code of the recruit's home of record. Because more recruits came from high-income neighborhoods in 2003, the mean income rose to $42,822. There were proportionately fewer recruits (18.0 percent) from the poorest quintile of ZIP codes in 1999, as well as fewer from the richest quintile (18.6 percent). The income distribution of new recruits after September 11, 2001, is remarkably different. In 2003, only 14.6 percent of military recruits came from the poorest quintile, while the wealthiest quintile provided 22.0 percent.
Education. In 1999, 98 percent of all enlisted recruits had at least a high school education, compared to the national average of 75 percent among citizens who are 18-24 years old. In 2003, no three-digit ZIP code area had a higher graduation rate among its population than among its recruits. After September 11, 2001, the educational quality of recruits rose slightly.
Race. In 2003, blacks made up a higher percentage of Army recruits (15 percent) than the adult population (11.3 percent) for a recruit-to-population ratio of 1.44. However, the recruit-to-population ratio of white recruits was 1.01, meaning that blacks did not displace whites. Rather, the racial groups with disproportionately low recruit-to-population ratios in 2003 were Asians, Hispanics, and individuals who declined to identify a race. Regarding the issue of disproportionate recruiting from black neighborhoods, we found that the 100 three-digit ZIP code areas with the highest concentration of blacks had 14.63 percent of the adult population but provided 16.58 percent of 1999 recruits and only 14.09 percent of 2003 recruits.
Tim Kane, Ph.D., is Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.