Middle-class youths, not the poor, are providing the bulk of wartime recruits to the armed forces, according to a new study by a conservative think tank.
The Heritage Foundation research paper found that a higher percentage of middle-class and upper-middle-class families have been providing enlistees for the war on Islamic militants since the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Researchers matched the ZIP codes of recruits over the past five years with federal government estimates of household incomes in those neighborhoods. Contrary to complaints from some liberal lawmakers and pundits, the data show that the poor are not shouldering the bulk of the military’s need for new soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines.
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.
“We found that recruits tend to come from middle-class areas, with disproportionately fewer from low-income areas,” said the report, prepared by Tim Kane, an Air Force Academy graduate and economics scholar. “Overall, the income distribution of military enlistees is more similar to than different from the income distribution of the general population.”
The debate was begun in 2002 by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, as U.S. troops were fighting in Afghanistan and preparing for war in Iraq.
“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,” Mr. Rangel wrote in the New York Times. The lawmaker called on the Bush administration to reinstate compulsory service.
Mr. Rangel’s Washington office did not respond yesterday to the Heritage report.
The draft was discontinued in 1973, and the all-volunteer force eventually grew into what many national security officials see as the best-trained military force in history.
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.
“In other words, on average, recruits in 2003 were from wealthier neighborhoods than were recruits in 1999,” said the report, titled, “Who Bears the Burden? Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Recruits Before and After 9/11.”
Mr. Kane said overall evidence “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.”
About 98 percent of all enlistees from 1999 to 2003 had a high school diploma, compared with 75 percent of nonrecruits nationwide.
“In an education context, rather than attracting underprivileged young Americans, the military seems to be attracting above-average Americans,” Mr. Kane wrote.