2005 November 05 Saturday
Rural Kids Biggest Contingent In US Military

Poor kids from hardscrabble rural areas turn to the military due to poor alternative options.

More than 44 percent of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas, Pentagon figures show. In contrast, 14 percent come from major cities. Youths living in the most sparsely populated Zip codes are 22 percent more likely to join the Army, with an opposite trend in cities. Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and West (24 percent).

The recruits come from not just rural but also poor areas.

All of the Army's top 20 counties for recruiting had lower-than-national median incomes, 12 had higher poverty rates, and 16 were non-metropolitan, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group that analyzed 2004 recruiting data by Zip code.

Quality of recruits has hit a 10 year low.

Senior Pentagon officials say the war has had a clear impact on recruiting, with a shrinking pool of candidates forcing the military to accept less qualified enlistees -- and presumably many for whom military service is a choice of last resort. In fiscal 2005, the Army took in its least qualified group of recruits in a decade, as measured by educational level and test results.

So hard up kids with lousy prospects are getting killed and maimed by improvised explosive devices. I wonder if white kids from areas which are experiencing large illegal Hispanic immigrant influxes are better recruiting areas. As the illegals drive down the wages for manual labor a stint in the Army becomes more attractive. The costs of being a below average white rural guy in America keep rising. Also see my post "October 2005 Iraq Coalition Death Rate 5th Highest Since Start Of War".

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 November 05 11:35 AM  Mideast Iraq Costs

Marvin said at November 5, 2005 11:54 AM:

How are you going to keep them down on the farm, when they can enlist to fight and see the world? Rural kids have always been drawn to military life. More rural kids grow up hunting and learning to stalk prey. In rural communities, team sports such as football and basketball are still the route to local heroism. Team play in sports converts to team play in military squads. Anyone who has worked with or in the military understands the correlation between sports training and military training.

War kills. Not a very surprising or profound discovery. Everyone who enlists is quite aware of the danger. It is not as if the media tries to downplay casualties in Iraq. Quite the opposite. Randall's voice is but a small peep in the loud chorus of celebratory oratoria proclaiming every death, every flag-draped casket. These young (and not so young) enlistees understand what is facing them, probably better than any previous generation of would-be soldiers, marines, and sailors.

What is sadly lacking in Randall's repetitive dirge is the underlying global ferment that makes so many young americans, rural or otherwise, so uneasy. Uneasy enough to risk their lives in a god forsaken country like Iraq. Something important is going on that Randall is either ignoring or skimming over so quickly it cannot be seen.

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2005 12:01 PM:


You just did a lot of spinning.

The attraction of the military is stronger among these kids because they are poor. Upper income rural zip codes have football teams too. But they aren't the fertile recruiting ground that the lower income zip codes are. How come? While you talk about "the underlying global ferment" they are thinking about their lousy job prospects.

Marvin said at November 5, 2005 12:34 PM:

Randall, you are not really saying anything. Of course rural kids leave for better prospects. That has been going on for how many hundreds of years? There certainly is a big difference between rural and urban high school sports fans. In rural areas there is only one team, with not much else going on for competition. In the city, high school teams are a dime a dozen and take second and third fiddle to the university teams and professional teams.

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2005 12:45 PM:


1) The number of people joining the military has declined and continues to decline.

2) The quality of recruits allowed in has been lowered and yet the decline continues.

3) The US Army has to go to hardscrabble areas to find kids desperate enough to join.

Yes, "Something important is going on" as you state. But you are the one who is ignoring it.

Marvin said at November 5, 2005 4:19 PM:

There you go again. Trying to say something and ending up repeating things that are common knowledge. Have you ever wondered why most governments have to institute a draft in wartime to maintain an army? Most people have a strong sense of self-preservation and choose not to put themselves in harm's way if they can help it. In the case of the current Iraq war, there is a very high percentage of re-enlistments. These people know what it is like in Iraq and choose to take another tour. As for hard-scrabble areas, even in the hardest scrabbled area (sic) people have other choices than to risk their lives dodging IED's. Sometimes you sound as disconnected as an academic, totally divorced from real people's experience. If you are just a kid that makes sense and would explain your reaction to being contradicted. If you have actual real world experience, it becomes more problematic.

Regardless, try to keep your mind open to other perspectives. There is obviously a lot more going on than you are paying attention to right now.

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2005 5:17 PM:


Common basic facts need repeating.

Again, you said:

What is sadly lacking in Randall's repetitive dirge is the underlying global ferment that makes so many young americans, rural or otherwise, so uneasy. Uneasy enough to risk their lives in a god forsaken country like Iraq.

Fewer young Americans are willing to do that.

The US military has had to increase financial incentives, lower standards, and resort to stop-loss orders and similar techniques to get enough bodies.

Now, I just repeated some commonly known facts. But those facts put your statement in a needed context.

What is going on right now: The United States is pursuing a policy that is increasing the number of people who want to be terrorists.

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2005 5:26 PM:


You present the retention rate of recruited soldiers as an indication of something important and fail to mention additional needed context for interpreting reenlistments:

1) The US military has upped reenlistment bonuses. The bonuses run into 6 figures for special forces and needed specialties.

2) The US military is making deals on where reenlisted soldiers will get deployed.

3) The soldiers who would otherwise not reenlist are faced with the threat of being called back in via the Reserves as soon as they leave the service. If they reenlist they can get a better deal than if they go back in via the Reserves.

4) The US military is adjusting benefits and pay to make reenlistment more attractive.

5) The US military is heavily selling the soldiers on reenlistment and selling them on the idea that the war is worth fighting.

I'm paying attention to quite a bit...

Marvin said at November 5, 2005 6:11 PM:

Have you checked the salaries that private companies in Iraq are paying? Much more than the military. If they are going to risk their lives anyway, why join the military with its low pay rates?

Once again, in wartime, invariably fewer people enlist on their own, out of a sense of self-preservation. Again, that is why every nation finds it necessary to institute a draft in wartime. Why are any americans willing to risk their lives in Iraq voluntarily? Bonuses, other incentives, are not enough when it comes to a person's life. There have to be other reasons for taking that chance voluntarily.

Your blindspot. They call it that because you cannot see it.

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2005 6:36 PM:


The reason the US military is offering the 6 figure amounts for reenlistment in the special forces is in part due to the private companies hiring away the special forces. Guys decide they'd rather make a quarter million a year as private contractors. They gamble they can do it for a couple of years, not get killed, and go home with a very nice nest egg. To get to the point of being eligible for those jobs they first have to perform as special forces and then have their enlistment run out.

The kids out of high school can not get those salaries because they lack the experience of being in the special forces. Not all regular Army can make it into the special forces. So they do not have the choice private contracting jobs as an alternative. Your own blind spot is showing.

Some young guys want to fight. They grew up watching war movies. Even during unpopular wars some enlist. Some were enlisting in the US Army even in 1969 when Vietnam was seen as pointless by the majority. This war is getting about as unpopular.

Of course Bush is not willing to ask for a draft. So the ability of the US to maintain current force levels in Iraq is questionable. The US military is trying to shift more jobs to civilian contractors all over the globe in order to free up more troops for combat. But more financial incentives will be forthcoming as the decline in new recruits combined with casualties also reduce the pool available to reenlist.

FriendlyFire said at November 6, 2005 5:49 AM:

Uneasy enough to risk their lives in a god forsaken country like Iraq. Something important is going on that Randall is either ignoring or skimming over so quickly it cannot be seen.

Why dont you spell it out in clear words so that there can be no misinterpretation ?

noone said at November 6, 2005 7:22 AM:

"Again, that is why every nation finds it necessary to institute a draft in wartime."

1)A military draft is not politically or socially possible at this time(why do you think it's the Dems who are proposing it?)

2)A conscrpt military is almost useless(and often counter-productive)in a guerilla war.

Like LBJ,Bush has tried to fight the war on the cheap and to keep the most politacl options open by keeping the public largely disengaged and ,like LBJ,he's finding the public becoming engaged on the "anti" side and his politicl options still being reduced to 1(get out).
Add to this that Bush has tried to fight a "politically correct" war by not naming the enemy explicitly("terrorism" is a tactic,not an enemy).Our enemy is Islam,a supremacist ideology that has bluntly announced it's intention to conquer thru demographic migration and cultural aggresion backed by physical violence.
By doing this,he has refused to conduct the domestic "civil war",a nessesary pre-condition to even admitting our true enemy and leaveing the anti war crowd with the political initiative.
To put it crudely,Bush and the neo-cons have shot their wad.Pandering to the left has bought them nothing and they handily alientad large segments of the base on a number issues,from open borders to big government pork barrel spending.

Marvin said at November 6, 2005 8:18 AM:

To some degree noone is correct that Bush tries to be all things to all people, and thus fails at most things he tries. Most people use the term "neocon" without understanding what it means. What were they before they were "cons?" They were leftists. Most of them are still leftists in many ways. If Bush adopted neo-con policy he probably adopted both the "con" and the "left" aspects. That seems clear in his domestic spending policies and lack of helpful immigration policy.

High school graduates can get all sorts of jobs in Iraq that pay more than military rates. Military pay is terrible considering the amount of time the person has to be on duty. The hourly rate is atrocious. Any burger flipper in the states gets a better hourly rate than new recruits. The US economy is better than anywhere in the world. Think China's economy is better? With a hundred million homeless? Think again. Emigrants from the third world are not busting down China's doors to get in. These kids have the choice to move to a larger town, often one less than fifty miles from their homes. Capitalism has tended to centralize economic activity to cities and larger towns. Did you just now learn this? Eventually technology will somewhat reverse the trend, especially if more cities go the way of Paris and Detroit.

Randall Parker said at November 6, 2005 9:08 AM:

The neocons were really two separate but overlapping groups:

1) Former communists and former leftists. Yes, they retained many of their old thought patterns. You can see this in David Horowitz's rhetoric for example.

2) Social scientists. They brought quantitative skills to the making of conservative arguments. James Q. Wilson is an example. Some of these guys were formerly Democrats. But not all were former radicals.

The problem is that the quantitative thinkers are dying off and the neocon ranks have become far more ideological, unempirical, and just plain crazy. Some have special agendas (notably Israel). They've harmed their own interests as well as the interests of the United States.

See Leon Hadar's article in about how Israelis originally agreed with the neocons on Iraq but now see the invasion as bad for Israel's interests.

But was it? That is certainly not the conclusion that you would draw after skimming through analyses issued by Israeli experts since the collapse of Saddam’s statue in downtown Baghdad and which suggest that America has been fighting the right war (against terrorism) in the wrong place (Iraq). “The war in Iraq did not damage international terror groups but instead distracted the United States from confronting other hotbeds of Islamic militancy and actually ‘created momentum’ for many terrorists,” the Associated Press recently reported of a study conducted by “a top Israeli security think tank.” The Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University said that far from undermining Islamic militants, the Iraq War “has created momentum for many terrorist elements, but chiefly al-Qaida and its affiliates.”

The center’s director, Shai Feldman, suggested in the report that the vast amount of money and effort the United States has poured into Iraq has deflected attention from other centers of terrorism, such as Afghanistan. The focus of U.S. intelligence upon Iraq “has to be at the expense of being able to follow strategic dangers in other parts of the world,” he wrote. The bottom line of this and other similar Israeli studies is that Iran, and not the United States, has emerged from the war in Iraq as the major winner.

D Flinchum said at November 6, 2005 10:49 AM:

"As the illegals drive down the wages for manual labor a stint in the Army becomes more attractive."

Randall, you've hit it spot-on. That is exactly what is going on. The employment rate for young men in the US is the lowest that it's been in decades. The mills, factories, etc that provided jobs for generations of young men who didn't go to college are closing or already closed - gone to third-world countries. If they remain in the US (like meat-packing), they are often taken over by illegal immigrants working for wages so low that a US citizen can't support himself let alone a family. Service type jobs (construction) are increasingly going to immigrants - often illegal - for the same reason. As for heading to the city where jobs are more plentiful, so are the immigrants and therefore cheap labor competition. Young US citizens are not getting that all important first-rung-of-the-ladder job that leads to a career down the road.

About 3 years ago there was an article in "Newsweek" that discussed a young guy in WV with great SAT's, excellent grades, community service, etc. He really wanted a shot at Cornell or a couple of others but got not a nibble. His problem? He was a working-class white guy - first in his family to even think about college - which meant he didn't have the affirmative action hook and also that his folks didn't have the connections or money to get him in.

There were several letters to the editor in a later edition, including mine. I pointed out(1)the hypocrisy on the left whereby the supporters of affirmative action get their own kids into good schools while the guy above gets shafted (you notice that the Clintons didn't give up Chelsea's double legacy at Yale in the name of affirmative action) and that (2) businesses were bringing in so many H-1B's that the guy might get shafted a second time if he persisted in majoring in IT, and (3) that he might get noticed as a result of the article but many other wouldn't. "Newsweek" printed only (3), dropping (1) & (2) entirely. BTW, one letter noted that well, gee whiz, some kids who wanted to go on the college joined the military first and thereby got assistance with tuition etc. The author of this letter opted to remain anonymus.

noone said at November 6, 2005 3:19 PM:

Randal and Marvin

"W" is not a neo-con,like Poppy,he's a good old fashioned Liberal Republican of the country club variety.

But,interstingl;y enough,I think the politics and culture of the 60's has influenced Bush more than people think.I believe the idealism,for want of a better word,stuck with him,I belive he really does think big government is a solution,I think he really doesn't have ideological,moral or philosophical objections to A.A. and race quotas,etc.

Randall Parker said at November 6, 2005 4:05 PM:


Bush is allied with the neocons and has adopted many neocon policies. That he doesn't know enough to be a neocon on an intellectual level is irrelevant in my view.

Country club Republicans would be lot more reticent and a lot less messianic in their approach to the world.

I agree about what he's like on A.A. and race quotas. As for whether that is neoconservatism or liberalism: I see the current crop of neoconservatives as liberal hawks. They lack the quantitative depth of James Q. Wilson, Charles Murray, and other social science neocons of an older generation. So the neocons are worthless or worse on domestic social policy.

gcochran said at November 6, 2005 6:44 PM:

Most of the mercenary outfits in Iraq are living, directly or indirectly, off money from the US Government. We're bidding against ourselves, and in the process greatly increasing the cost of military specialists. I can think of no previous war in which we did this to any significant extent. How stupid.

John S Bolton said at November 7, 2005 2:01 AM:

One could be overlooking the effect of demographic differences, by emphasizing the economic ones. Those who identify personally with the American military and its history, saying these are my people, are different in descent from those who would not. Military recruiters have commented on the difficulty of getting Italian, Jewish, and other ethnic groups to enlist readily. In general, an immigrant lineage will not see the military as that of their own, which has been here less than 100 years. The big exception to this rule of thumb, is the Hispanics, but they are too far down in terms of literacy and test scores to get as many such positions as they might want. We don't have the combination of below average income, American roots, and average or higher IQ, except in rural white America. Another factor is the older status system in which military rank of one's forebears, landownership of relatively great size and antiquity, forms the ranking more than the modern one of income and education. The Latinos bring something like that with them from south of the border, but it can only really function today among rural southerners for the most part, in terms of effectiveness for miltary recruitment. The military could play to that status system, simply by reinstating the merit system in promotions, eliminating the racial affirmative action quotas. The effect on recruitment could be explosive, if those who share their values could expect a merit system.

Marvin said at November 8, 2005 5:21 AM:

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. While only 21 percent of Americans live in rural areas, 44 percent of the qualified recruits come from these areas. What’s strange about all this is that the rural areas spend much less, per pupil, on education, but get much better results.


Randall Parker said at November 8, 2005 7:43 AM:


StrategyPage sure knows how to shovel the politically correct bullshit.

You mean, the inner city kids are not doing more poorly because they are dumb? It is the poor education they receive that is at fault?

Is poor education also behind the Paris rioting and the Iraqi insurgency too? Those people aren't frustrated because they are dumb failures?

You have to analyse the world using the truth or the world just seems like a bunch of random events. Either that or you have to believe myths and keep rationalising how the facts fit the myths. I find the rationalising to be an awful waste of intellectual energy that I'd rather employ more productively.

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