A Look At The Draft

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Rep. Charles Rangel of New York is again pushing to reinstate the draft. His assertion is that privileged Americans are sending the less fortunate among us to die in our stead and that there would be less war if everyone were to share in the risk of being the ones to fight.

His argument, on its surface, seems compelling. Anecdotally, when we look at the military recruiting sales pitch of having the military pay for your education and the like, it is easy to assume that this is targeted to appeal to the poorer amongst us. Unfortunately, when you look at demographics for the military, it is difficult to impossible to draw meaningful conclusions about the income levels of volunteers.

One thing you can compare is the racial make up the military compared to the general population. Here there is a clear bias toward minorities in the makeup of the enlisted ranks of the Army (active/guard/reserves):

Race U.S. Population Army Enlisted Army Total
White 67.4% 62.9% 64.9%
Black 13.4% 20.6% 19.3%
Hispanic 14.1% 10.4% 9.6%
Asian 4.8% 3.7% 3.5%
Other 1.8% 2.7% 2.7%
Total 300,000,000 855,500 1,010,800

Some interesting observations about this chart:

  • Every race except "White" goes down in percentage of the total army versus percentage of the enlisted. The difference comes from the incorporation of warrant and commission officers into the totals. The racial makeup of the officers is disproportionate toward whites as compared to the army as a whole.
  • The combined active duty, guard, and reserves represent just 1/3 of one percent of the U.S. population. For a nation "at war," one might argue that this statistic alone justifies a draft.
  • While blacks are over-represented in the military compared to the U.S. population, Asians and Hispanics are actually under-represented.

Disproportionate representation by race doesn't necessarily prove Rep. Rangel's assertion that an all volunteer force is made up of the poorest of Americans. To get a closer understanding of that, we need to look at income broken down by race:

Median Household Income (2005)
White $48,554
Hispanic $35,967
Black $30,858

This chart still provides no conclusive proof to back Rangel's assertions, but it does help some. Blacks have a significantly lower household income and represent a disproportionately higher contribution to the army; however, Hispanics also have a lower income than whites but have a disproportionately lower distribution to the army. In fact to quote another source, when taken as a whole, income is a non-factor in volunteerism for the army:

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.

In fact, if you look closely at those dates, it suggests that patriotism after 9/11 has lead to increased recruitment amongst households with above average incomes.

I do think Rangel's assertions are worth greater study, but am not ready to grant the premise that army recruiting specifically targets the poor.

That said, the army clearly does not proportionately represent America in its makeup; and, with the army being only .34% of the U.S. population, perhaps a draft is called for even if it serves no "social justice" purpose.

America's army is stretched to the point that it probably couldn't fight North Korea or Iran successfully. A war is not about the ability to bomb, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the ability to establish a new peace afterward (something we have failed to do in both circumstances.) If Americans want on "war on terror", and want to win it, we almost certainly need a draft.


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