Here is the economic summary from the GAO report upon which the article’s statistics are based:
For fiscal year 2004, DOD’s Office of Accession Policy found that recruits came from areas defined by zip codes whose median incomes were similar to those of civilian youth in general–about $44,500 for recruits compared to about $44,300 for civilian youth.
Call me simple-minded, but doesn’t the whole ‘poverty-stricken NASCAR fan’ theory put forward in the article pretty much fall apart right there?
The first problem with the article (beyond the overt and shameful stereotyping of the communities covered) is the fact that much is made out of the percentage of recruits from rural areas without giving any context to the numbers. Sure, it seems odd on the surface that nearly half of recruits would come from rural areas. But even if you discount the anecdotal and stereotypical evidence put forward about the “hard-working, patriotic, duty-bound rural stock”, without any hint about whether this percentage is out of the ordinary, the article is based on next to nothing.
Skimming the GAO report, it really appears to me that the angle adopted by the WaPo writer doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Here are a couple more snippets:
DOD estimates that over half of the youth in the U.S. population between the ages of 16 and 21 do not meet the minimum requirements for enlistment.
Historically, many African Americans enlisted for tangible reasons and were more likely than White or Hispanic enlisted personnel to be in noncombat occupations and make a career of the military. Research suggests that Whites and Hispanics appear to be more likely than African Americans to report joining the military for intangible reasons such as adventure, being part of an elite team, or doing something for one’s country.
Because of the declining veteran population, youth today are less likely than in the past to have one or more parents who are veterans. Research has also shown that children of current or former servicemembers are more likely than other youth to join.
High civilian unemployment is associated with higher enlistment rates. For example, during the low civilian unemployment of the late 1990s, some components failed to meet their recruiting goals. Although there are regional differences, the current low unemployment rate results in civilian opportunities for youth considering post-high school options.
The most recent Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation found, on average, military pay was at the 70th percentile or higher of the wages provided to comparably educated civilians.
It really seems to me that the WaPo story is, if not nearly complete bunk, at least unsubstantiated in the sense that the main thrust of the story (the high percentage of rural recruits) is not compared to any other period in time.
A more thorough reading of the GAO report shows that the DoD is more than aware of the fact that the current “operational tempo” has made recruiting much more difficult (especially among blacks) and that their data-gathering system is probably not perfect. I also think that the WaPo story is probably not perfect. By a long shot.
UPDATE: Much more at Mudville Gazette
UPDATE 2: GL at the Ministry has some personal thoughts on this issue. Go read This just in: Sky is blue; trees, green.