Yesterday I noticed this WaPo article: Youths in Rural U.S. Are Drawn To Military It’s filled with a lot of facts, but if you read it you’ll realize that the basic angle is that many of the poorest people with no other options are enlisting in the military:
Many of today’s recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income.
This would be more meaningful if there was any indication of previous recruiting. Yes, this zip code data is something new, but don’t tell me that there is no similar information about the socio-economic standing of recruiting before 2004. 44%, the percentage of recruits from rural areas, seems like a lot. And if previous percentages were lower, then the WaPo might be on to something. But what if previous percentages were in the mid-40s? Wouldn’t that mean that all this excitement is baseless?
And, regarding that 44%, the “nearly half”, Greyhawk writes:
But if “nearly half” of recruits come from one group, then over half come from another – in this case, that group would be people with higher incomes.
Whoa. That sort of thinking will get you kicked right out of the conversation, mister.
Anyway, the WaPo also notes:
Unemployment in Martinsville was 12.1 percent in 2004. Median income is $27,000, with a poverty rate of 17.5 percent, 2000 census data show.
In the past, when the unemployment rate has been mentioned as a possible reason that recruiting results are down, critics of the invasion of Iraq or of George Bush have usually dismissed it. It might be interesting to take all this zip code data and compare the employment levels in each area with the recruiting numbers. Think there might be a correlation?
The article works pretty hard to pass off the residents of Martinsville as backwoods hicks. Note
Tucked into the Piedmont foothills of southern Virginia, where jobs in the local economy are scarce as NASCAR fans are plentiful, Martinsville is typical of the lower-income rural communities across the nation that today constitute the U.S. military’s richest recruiting grounds.
But nationwide, data point above all to places such as Martinsville, where rural roads lined with pine and poplar trees snake through lonely, desolate towns, as the wellspring for the youth fighting America’s wars.
Roaming in and out of cell-phone range through tiny towns, Barber and his partner post Army brochures at mom-and-pop groceries, work the crowd at NASCAR races at the local track, and log more than 100 miles a day meeting potential recruits.
If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that the writer has a less-than-stellar opinion of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
Meanwhile, the article does touch on what I think is a major point:
In contrast to some schools around the country that limit access to recruiters, Magna Vista, where half of students receive financial aid or free lunch, welcomes them. School officials give recruiters a list of seniors to contact, and encourage upperclassmen to take a vocational test required by the military.
“We expose them to the fact that the military is there,” said guidance counselor Karen Cecil. “We’re setting the stage for [students] to know it’s an option” especially as a way to afford college, she said.
“Limit access to recruiters”. That’s an interesting way to put it. Another interesting way to put it is
Apparently, expressing one’s rights is patriotic (dissent is patriotic) while actually defending them is for poor, retarded hicks.
Now, you might take exception to Don Surber’s point, but at least he didn’t use NASCAR as an apparent metaphor for “unsophisticated redneck”.
Another point I wondered about, though I’m not quite so sure about, is raised by Strategy Page:
The U.S. Department of Defense sees urban schools as ones of its biggest recruiting obstacles. Not because leftist teachers in some of those schools try to keep recruiters out, but because so many potential recruits have to be turned down because of the poor education they have received in those schools.
I don’t doubt that this is an issue, but I wonder if it’s really a significantly-bigger issue with urban recruits than with rural recruits. As usual, Strategy Page includes no sourcing for it’s articles, so it’s difficult to even tell who thinks education is an issue, let alone what their supporting evidence is.
As Glenn Reynolds says:
In Is Iraq killing young Republicans?, Give Up Blog writes:
Who knows what effect this will have for the future of Republicans. Will it create thousands of disillusioned youth like Vietnam thus undermining the future of the Republican party?
The Dems can hope, I guess.
It seems that recruiting, though not currently a glowing success, is more a political issue used to score points and maybe not so much of a looming disaster (complete with that Great Hope of the Left, the DRAFT) after all. If I didn’t know any better, I’d wonder if the WaPo article really a thinly-veiled slap at the zip codes and socio-economic class that re-elected George Bush.
By the way, did that WaPo article even hint at the military’s retention rates? Didn’t think so.
UPDATE: More here.