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Nov. 10, 2006—America’s all-volunteer military force consists of high quality recruits and has throughout the war on terror. So says the Heritage Foundation in a recent report, “Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of US Military Enlistment 2003-2005.” Tim Kane, the report’s author, repudiates claims that the military is taking drastic measures to meet recruiting goals—including focusing on poor, minority recruits.

To disprove critics that he says are using “selective evidence,” Kane analyzes data for recruits from 2003 to 2005, using four characteristics: household income, level of education, race/ethnicity, and regional/rural origin.

Income Level
Military recruits mostly come from middle-class households and not the poorest households, Kane asserts. Kane used Census Bureau data from Census 2000—the most recently completed and published—to determine general income based on hometowns. The mean income (using 1999 dollars) attributed to households for 2004 recruits was $43,122, while for 2005 recruits it was $43,238. In fact, Kane’s analysis shows that recruit representation from the poorest areas has “decreased dramatically,” falling nearly a full percentage point from 14.61 percent in 2003 to 13.66 percent in 2005.

Contrary to prevalent claims, Kane maintains that the military has steadfastly maintained “a higher quality of military recruits compared to equivalent civilian population.” He says that most critics look only at the easing of Category IV test score quotas, while ignoring a rise in Category I recruits. Kane acknowledges that in 2005 the Army accepted 4.4 percent of its recruits in the Cat IV level—those who scored lowest on the armed forces qualifying test—but notes that overall the military only took in 2.2 percent from Cat IV. Kane points out, too, that 20 percent of the comparable civilian population in 2005 would have scored below Cat IV.

And, for the US military, the determination of a “high quality” recruit includes scoring at Cat IIIA (above the 50th percentile on the AFQT) and having a high school diploma. Kane says that the military has seen an increase in “high quality” recruits from 57 percent in 2001 to 64 percent in 2005.

The report asserts that minorities in general do “not disproportionately” comprise the enlisted ranks. Kane found that whites are the “most proportionally” represented group, and that blacks are “overrepresented,” however, he says, black representation “has decreased” from 2003 to 2005. The ratio of black recruits to all recruits was 1.32 for most of 2003, dropping to 1.07 in 2005. And, says Kane, “In the past two years of military recruiting, the proportion of blacks in the military approached the proportion of blacks in the population.”

The most overrepresented group comprises recruits who identified themselves as Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, while Asian recruits are underrepresented. Getting a solid picture of Hispanic representation proved difficult, says Kane, since “a high percentage declined to respond” to questions of ethnicity. By using data only for those who did respond, Kane found that in both 2004 and 2005 the recruit to population ratio was slightly higher for Hispanics than non-Hispanics.

In general, more recruits are coming from rural areas, particularly the South, notes Kane. His analysis did find, though, that the states with the highest proportional enlistment ratios for the past two years are not in the South, instead they include Alaska, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.

Kane concludes: “With regards to income, education, race, and regional background, the all-volunteer force is representative of our nation. … Recruit quality is increasing as the war in Iraq continues. … No evidence supports arguments for reinstating the draft.”