How Economics Feeds The Ranks

On May 18, 1917, to address the lack of enlistment for WWI, the 65th U.S. Congress passed the Selective Service Act, or “the draft,” requiring men from the ages of 21-30 to register for military service for 12 months. In August, 1918, the maximum age was later raised to 45. The program was discontinued in 1920 when the war ended. 

Between it’s enactment in 1917, subsequent selective service legislation, and the end of the Vietnam war in 1973, there have been a total of 16,307,243 draftees.

In July 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed Proclamation 4771 (Registration Under the Military Selective Service Act), which effectively reinstated registering for the draft for men 18-26. In 2016, the House introduced a bill to repeal draft registration and “prohibits denial of righrs, benefit, or employment position under Federal law on the grounds that the person failed to present himself for and submit to registration” except in some states where registration was required to receive state benefits. This bill has yet to become a law.

On April 27, 2016, the House Armed Services Committee voted to add an amendment to the pending “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017″ to extend the authority for draft registration to women. On May 12, 2016, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to add a similar provision to its version of the bill. If the bill including this provision is enacted into law, it would authorize (but not require) the President to order young women as well as young men to register with the Selective Service System.”

In essence, since the end of the Vietnam conflict, the military has been totally voluntary. Or is it?

You see them in every major city experiencing a homeless problem. They are there on the side of the roads, at intersections, and in the homeless camps. They hold there signs with the hope that the words HOMELESS VETERAN will illicit a tug on our hearts. Many times for me, it does. And then I am moved to anger. Anger at the fact that someone who knowingly put their bodies and souls in danger for our country is now forced to live on the streets. Disabled veterans and those who were injured can’t get adequate care from VA hospitals. Brave men and women who are locked in a battle with PTSD. Twenty or more suicides EVERY DAY.

As more and more people become aware of the treatment our veterans are getting, it only seems to give a negative and disturbing picture to anyone who has been considering enlisting. But enlistment has not been deterred.

What makes people join the military?

While some young men and women are looking for hands on experience in their fields of interest, others are looking for the college education that becomes more easily accessible. Some are looking for the discipline while others are following in the family tradition of service. Most enlisted are there out of desperation.

A 2007 article from answers this question best:

“The vast majority of young people wind up in the military for different reasons, ranging from economic pressure to the desire to escape a dead end situation at home to the promise of citizenship. Over all, disengagement may be one of the most accurate words for why some youth enlist.” (The Making of an American Soldier: Why Young People Join the Military)

The article goes on: “When mandatory military service ended in 1973, the voluntary military was born. By the early 1980’s, the term “poverty draft” had gained currency to connote the belief that the enlisted rank of the military was made up of young people with limited economic opportunities.”

With the economic situation we are currently in and what may be a downturn in the economy due to the draconian measures of the current administration, people of enlistment age sit at the highest levels of unemployment, making the pickings ripe.

Most of the branches of the military have reached or exceeded enlistment goals in recent years, most likely due to the unemployment rates among those of enlistment age. Many young people see the military as a way to escape the lifestyle that would undoubtedly land them among the prison population.

During the Vietnam war, if you were able to go to college, you could be exempt from being drafted. This led to a disproportionate amount of minority men fighting, mostly men from urban areas and low-income families. The same still holds true as young men and women, wishing to gain experience and a paycheck, join up, hoping that this will be a stepping stone to a life better than where they came from. For some, the military is the only job they hope to get. The term coined for this desperation in known as “the Poverty Draft.”

Trump promises to build up the already vast military of our country. We wonder if this means continuing the endless wars in oil rich, primarily Muslim countries. We already spend more than any other country on the planet, more than the next 8 countries on the list. A great deal of this money is spent on private, contracted forces. In the U.S. Army, “including the most common pay allowances, the average total compensation for a Corporal may range from $41,791.90 to $47,040.70 per year as of 2017.”(

This figure is attractive to someone who looks around their neighborhood and sees their options as either a gang member or stuck in a minimum wage, dead end job. Or in worst case scenarios, in jail or dead.

The plan to build up our military and the prospect of more incarcerations is a call to take a look at what’s in the hopper for our young men and women in the not so distant future. Are the powers that be hope that keeping wages low will keep soldiers coming or will we be seeing another draft?