News Release

April 23, 2018

For Immediate Release
Contact: Fiona Gettinger, Communications Associate
gettingerf@cna.org, 703-824-2388

New Report Disproves Myth of Overrepresentation of Low-Income Recruits in U.S. Military

Arlington, Va. — Contrary to popular belief, recruits from low-income neighborhoods do not make up the majority of enlisted accessions across the military branches, according to the 43rd annual Population Representation in the Military Services report (also known as the “PopRep”). Published this month by CNA for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, this annual Department of Defense (DOD) report provides the most comprehensive analysis of data on U.S. military personnel.

The PopRep report encompasses applicants, accessions (successful recruits), and existing officer and enlisted members in the active and reserve forces among each of the U.S. military branches and the U.S. Coast Guard.

In comparing neighborhood affluence of enlisted accessions, the 2016 data showed that census tracts with the lowest and the highest median incomes are underrepresented, while those in the middle income tracts are overrepresented. As the DOD standard is for 90 percent of enlisted accessions to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, the researchers suggest that higher high-school dropout rates in low-income neighborhoods and higher college attendance rates of youth in high-income neighborhoods likely contribute to this discrepancy. “These findings are important because they dispel the myth that the majority of military recruits come from low-income neighborhoods. Quite the opposite is true,” says Dr. Jennifer Griffin, senior research scientist and project director for the FY16 PopRep report.

During the recession of the late 2000s the services brought in a high percentage of high-quality recruits.However, as the U.S. economy and civilian labor market improved in the last few years, recruiting has become more difficult. In addition, high school graduates are more likely than ever to enroll in college immediately and thereby be unavailable for military service. At the end of fiscal year 2016, there were almost 2.145 million people serving the U.S. military services (roughly 20,000 less than the previous fiscal year), 61 percent of whom served in the active component and 38 percent in the reserve component.

During the recession of the late 2000s the services brought in a high percentage of high-quality recruits.However, as the U.S. economy and civilian labor market improved in the last few years, recruiting has become more difficult. In addition, high school graduates are more likely than ever to enroll in college immediately and thereby be unavailable for military service. At the end of fiscal year 2016, there were almost 2.145 million people serving the U.S. military services (roughly 20,000 less than the previous fiscal year), 61 percent of whom served in the active component and 38 percent in the reserve component.

The geographic distribution of DOD enlisted accessions has remained generally the same since 2006 and reflects the geographic trends in the 18- to 24-year-old civilian population. At 44 percent, the South was the largest contributor of FY16 enlisted accessions, with the West, Midwest and Northeast contributing 24 percent, 18 percent, and 12 percent respectively. By total numbers, California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New York made up the top five contributing states in 2016. However, when listed by ratio of enlisted recruits per capita among the youth population, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, and Arizona made up the top five. “Clearly, not just population but also the propensity to join the military plays a role,” says Griffin. Whether measured by percentage or by ratio, the South is still overrepresented among enlisted accessions while the Northeast is underrepresented. The authors recommend that, “Given the desire for geographic diversity in our military forces, the services may want to consider increasing, or at least maintaining, recruiting efforts in the Northeast to help increase diversity.”

The FY16 PopRep and previous versions going back to 1997 are available on CNA’s website at cna.org/research/pop-rep

CNA is a nonprofit research and analysis organization dedicated to developing actionable solutions to complex problems of national importance. With nearly 700 scientists, analysts and professional staff, CNA takes a real-world approach to gathering data. Its one-of-a-kind field program places analysts on carriers and military bases, in squad rooms and classrooms, and working side-by-side with a wide array of government decision-makers around the world. In addition to defense-related matters for the U.S. Department of the Navy, CNA’s research portfolio includes criminal justice, homeland security, energy security, water resources, enterprise systems and data analysis, and education.

Note to writers and editors: CNA is not an acronym and is correctly referenced as "CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA."


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Fiona Gettinger
Communications Associate
703.824.2388
gettingerf@cna.org

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