NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who Serves in the All-Volunteer Army?

April 8, 2003

Critics claim that the all-volunteer United States military -- which is 30 years old this year -- is all-volunteer in name only. They argue that relative economic disadvantage has replaced local draft boards in determining who enters the military, especially the enlisted ranks, and that it is un-American to have an affluent nation being defended by working-class young people, heavily weighted with minorities.

  • When compared with other groups of the same age, the American military, particularly in its enlisted ranks, in fact has fewer rich people.
  • But it also has fewer poor ones. It has more Southerners and fewer Northeasterners.
  • It has a higher percentage of black people, especially black women, compared with the larger population, but a smaller proportion of Hispanics.

Defenders of the all-volunteer force, particularly in the Pentagon, say the volunteer force is more professional, better motivated and more stable when soldiers, sailors, pilots and others stay in for longer stints. They point to its performance in the Persian Gulf war, the Afghanistan campaign and now Iraq. And, observers say, they oppose returning to the often-troubled conscripted military of the Vietnam era just to make a point about equity that not everyone feels could or should even be remedied.

Source: Steven A. Holmes, "Is This Really an All-Volunteer Army?" New York Times, April 6, 2003.


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