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The Poverty Draft or: Earning free college one drone strike at a time

If you think back a few months, you'll possibly recall a moment in time when we were all worried that the assassination of the Quds commander Gen. Soleimani meant we were once again on the brink of war with Iran. After about 36 or so hours, the pundits calmed down, the sabers were put away, and everyone returned to business as usual. However in that flash there were many lefty veterans posting about war and the military being a "Poverty Draft".

In this ongoing series of American Propaganda, we’re going to look at some claims made about the demographics of Soldiers. One phrase in particular that gets thrown around quite a bit is “poverty draft” insinuating that we don’t need an involuntary draft because poverty keeps the ranks filled with poor and underprivileged people with no place to go than the military.

The Studies

There have been two studies I am aware of into the “affluence” of enlisted and officer military. The Heritage Foundation, which bases itself in 2008 (pre crash) numbers. Heritage discusses the household income of soldiers joining and how it matches up with the average income of zip codes. Which is curious because as far as *I* remember, I didn’t have to present my parent’s tax returns when I joined.

The second is something a bit more in-depth from the Council of Foreign Relations which admits it uses averages from zip codes as that is the only way to get a gauge on how much money a family *might* have.

The Claims

The claims of both these sites come up with the same answer: Troops these days are pretty affluent. We must just be joining because we love to kill brown people and do war crimes, and certainly there are claims along those lines. The Affluence of the Troops is held up as proof for the right (and the hard left tankies) that we’re all joining for patriotism and not poverty. Certainly there’s more than a few.

On the opposite side, war footings tend to bring out the solemn leftist condemnation, that the military IS a poverty draft, that only the poor and disenfranchised join due to having no other options other than destitution at the age of 19.

As always, everyone is wrong except me

The Reality

As I mentioned before, people like these data sets because they easily do away with the “poverty draft” narrative. As you can tell from this chart, we troops are solidly “middle class”

Analyzing data

Unfortunately people are not data points on an excel spreadsheet. Honestly I couldn’t even tell you why this study was conducted in the first place and what it’s meant to prove, other than give everyone from your racist uncle to the tankie in your DMs fodder for their diatribes on social media.

My first point of contention with this is affluence based on Zip Code. I can only speak for myself in the city of STL, but economic hegemony doesn’t always translate in all over the country. My own neighborhood has a wide range of class and while you can go on an average, there’s going to be variations

Secondly, what does “Middle Class” even mean? Households making 50k a year in rural Alabama isn’t the same as that much in NYC or LA. Debt loads of the average American van widely vary, as well as available assets to families. Who decides what affluent means? Is the family making 85K a year but paycheck to paycheck because of student loan debts and living in Seattle still affluent?

The term ‘poverty draft’ doesn’t sit well with me. It feels like a buzzword tossed around to push a narrative that is easy to argue against in the 240 allowed characters on twitter without doing any deep dive into data interpretation. Hell even everything you just read from me is based on conjecture and anecdotal evidence based on my experiences and knowledge of the community around myself and inside the military. But even I don't have a good look into that because I'm not combat arms and a very different kind of person joins the infantry vs joining public affairs.

The argument you should make isn't that the military relies on 'poverty' but that it relies on a shaky economy. That it needs people who are not financially stable, and often times those are the younger generation who society tells to take on massive burdens of debt for school or medical needs.

In short, you don't need to be in poverty to get fucked by capitalism.

1 Comment

Austin Mibarge
Austin Mibarge
May 11, 2020

Part of what you're describing here is a function of the statistical analysis carried out by the organization conducting the study. The assertion you make here that averages do not accurately reflect the range of values present in a population (for whatever metric under examination) is absolutely correct under certain conditions.

There are a couple requirements for this to be true. First, there is a significant divergence between using the median income and the mean income. If Heritage or Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) chose to utilize the mean, this can introduce a serious skew of the resulting data as it includes sample outliers that push the overall numbers up. For example, you have a neighborhood with 500 people…

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