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:


Postwatch thinks that the Washington Times story Recruits join armed forces seeking war is a direct response to the WaPo story. Looks like he might be right.

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.


  1. Maybe it’s just because rural people have the values that fit with a call to service. I have to say that it seems that rural communities tend to be less partisan, and more evenly patriotic in their values. I’m not saying urbanites aren’t patriotic. I’m just saying that you don’t see protests in Marion, South Dakota. It wouldn’t sit well. Farmers and farm kids are used to a hard days work. The military is a way to work hard, and get to see the world, not just the world from the tractor seat.

  2. I have to side with Chad on this one. If you take the perception of someone sitting in a studio apartment in the city, that right there can limit what their idea of freedom is. They only know this small area they call home. You take someone out of the plains states and their idea of freedom comes from the vast stretches of land they’ve come to know during their life. If all I knew was a tiny small country as seen from the inside of an apartment or views obstructed by steel why would I feel the need to support anything. But, truthfully and personally, I come from a place where within hours I can see mountains, lakes, rivers, wide open plains and big cities…and I say this a damn fine place I was proud to travel to Iraq to support! Semper Fi.

  3. The WaPo article is complete B.S. I have served with Soldiers and Marines from all economic backgrounds. They came from cities, suburbs, and the country. The guys from northern Maine and West Virginia were better shooters but you didn’t want to box with the guys from Brooklyn or Miami. Were a recruit came from made no difference in how good a Marine he became.

  4. Bram, I think you’ve hit it on the head as far as geography or demographics having much to do with a soldiers abilities. The topic of recruiting does play into the demographics, and studies thereof. I’m a soldier from the midwest, and have been to the field with NG and Reserve units from all over the country. No offense, but I’ll take midwesterners any day. The others do alright, but I can tell you that there is a whole different work ethic to the southern and eastern boys and girls. Not that they don’t do the job, they just do things a little differently.

  5. I’m glad no one bit my head off for suggesting this might be bad long-term for Republican recruiting. Irony often doesn’t come across well in blogs. It is true that our armed services does draw from all walks of life, so the commentors so far definitely have a point. However, I think they may be missing the point. The interesting thing in the article, I thought, were the shifts in recruitment. Blacks, no longer over-represented at 24%, dropping to about 14%, closer to their representation in the general population, while the proportion of white recruits increased to fill the difference. That shift, and the decreased city:rural ratio is interesting to me, and I can’t say I fully understand what’s causing it, other than the obvious disillusionment of blacks and urban dwellers in this country with W and the war. Therefore, to me it does look like an ideological shift and potential trouble for the army as popular dislike of the war is starting to have significant effects on recruitment in terms of numbers and background.

  6. Quitter: How do you know that there is a ‘decreased city:rural ratio’? This article doesn’t claim there is. It’s got all sorts of numbers for the percentage of teenagers, the percentage of blacks, the percentage of women, and the percentage of Hispanics. What *I* find interesting is that, despite the fact that nearly this entire article is based on the ‘high percentage of rural recruits’ we see today, they give no indication of what it might have been previously. I don’t know the numbers, and this article doesn’t even hint at them. For that reason (among others) I suspect that it’s not all that different than previous years. Which shoots down 80% or more of the article’s message. I could be wrong. Sure would be nice if an article about how many rural recruits are in today’s military noted how many were in yesterday’s military.