In The U.S., Military Recruiters Disproportionately Target Low-Income Kids
Across the United States, Americans are holding their breath as an increasingly tense situation with Iran spawns fears of another forever-war in the Middle East. Many of those Americans are likely wondering if it will be their own sons or daughters headed overseas.
But the data show that low- and middle-income parents have the most to worry about when it comes to children enlisting in the U.S. military.
According to The New Republic’s Nick Martin, two reporters for Education Week obtained documents pertaining to the Army’s presence in Connecticut high schools in 2015, via the Freedom of Information Act, and made an unsurprising discovery: Army recruiters spent far more time hanging out in low-income schools than they did those averaging higher incomes.
“Throughout the entire 2011–2012 school year, Army recruiters visited a higher-income high school—in which only 5 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunch—just four times,” Martin wrote. “By contrast, at another high school, where nearly half of the students qualified, Army recruiters stopped by more than 40 times before the spring semester’s final bell.”
Martin also pointed to the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which currently has about 500,000 enrollees. While the program is not technically recruitment, JROTC often functions as a “pipeline to the military.”
But as with the recruitment situation in Connecticut, the JROTC program does not target all schools equally.
“In 2017, the RAND Corporation reviewed JROTC programs across the country and found that ‘at public high schools with JROTC programs, 56.6 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, on average’—nearly 10 percentage points higher than at schools without JROTC,” Martin reported.
The program also tends to tends to be found at schools with higher minority populations, and somewhere between 40 and 65 percent of JROTC programs are found in the Southeast.
Martin acknowledged that all paths to military service are not the same, and tracking enlistment is more difficult than gauging recruitment efforts; however, there is no doubt that the U.S. military focuses disproportionately on lower-income Americans.
“Being poor means a lack of options; being middle-class often means mounds of debt and instability. The military promises solutions to all of that,” Martin wrote.
According to a 2005 report by The Seattle Times, “nearly half” of new recruits hailed “from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on ZIP codes and census estimates of mean household income.” And the data also revealed that nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 “came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.”
As the country fears the start of another major conflict, Martin noted that there is a new “draft” in the United States: “not a list of names and a lottery, but an economic system that creates generational precarity and offers little but a narrow, violent, and deadly way out.”