NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 8, 2006

A common misperception is that the U.S. military is increasingly filled with relatively uneducated young men and women from low-income households. Yet this myth doesn't hold up under inspection say Tim Kane, director of the Center for International Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation, and Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior policy analyst there.

Kane and Eaglen's research analyzed demographic data on every single enlistee, not just a sample, and found that in terms of education:

  • Counting enlisted troops, 29 of 30 have a high school diploma.
  • Of the civilian population, only about 4 out of 5 have their diploma.
  • The typical enlistee reads at a level roughly a full grade higher than other young American adults.

The idea that the military poaches from poor families is also wrong, say the authors:

  • Youths from wealthy American ZIP codes are volunteering in ever higher numbers.
  • Additionally, enlistees from the poorest fifth of American neighborhoods fell nearly a full percentage point over the last two years, to 13.7 percent.
  • In 1999, that number was 18 percent.

And while the Army has changed its standards -- which has been widely touted as evidence of decline -- not all the criticism is warranted, says Kane and Eaglen:

  • Category 4 scores (the lowest ranking) are up from 2 percent in previous years, reaching 4.4 percent of the total.
  • But the percentage of enlistees with Category 1 scores, the highest level, is also rising.

Critics have also focused on the fact that age limits on recruits have been raised -- the Army's old threshold of 35 has been changed to 42 for active-duty troops and to 40 for reserves. But this was simply an acknowledgment of reality: older recruits today are much healthier on average than in previous generations, say Kane and Eaglen.

Source: Tim Kane and Mackenzie Eaglen, "No Atheists In A Foxhole? No Idiots, Either," New York Times, November 8, 2006.

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