Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Myth of the Ghetto Army

Anecdotal opinions are tedious and in most cases useless.

I guess that’s why I am such a fan of research. It liberates us by allowing our beliefs and perceptions to be perpetually informed and updated by broader perspectives, especially today when it seems so much of the news is dominated by he-said-she-said sound bites, bumper sticker solutions and increasingly, recycled myths for the ideologically cocooned.

A good example was published this week in the Wall Street Journal by a free-lance writer and blogger I follow for insight into places like Afghanistan and Libya. Ann Marlowe is also currently a scholar at the Hudson Institute.

She is also an expert on the military as well as a lot of stereotypes and dated perceptions that are frequently expressed today. Her editorial uses the findings of an analysis by The Heritage Foundation to break down the socio-economics of those who have been fighting for us for a decade now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contrary to what a lot of people say or think, America’s soldiers are not primarily “poor and black:” Here 10 tidbits from what she writes:

  • 25% come from what were the wealthiest one-fifth of America’s neighborhoods in the 2000 census.
  • 11% came from the poorest one-fifth
  • 40% of Reserve Officer Training Corp enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods
  • Low-income families are under-represented in the military and high-income families are over-represented
  • Blacks comprise 17% of military-age Americans and make up 21% of enlisted soldiers
  • Whites comprise 58% of military-age Americans and make up 64% of enlisted soldiers
  • 64% of new enlistees are white and 19% are black
  • Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islander-Americans are under-represented.
  • While 74% of military-age Americans with bachelor’s degrees are white, 72% of Army officers are white.
  • While 8% of military-age Americans with B.A.s are black, 13% of Army officers are black.

The op-ed is well worth reading, as is the original analysis, both for more facts but also as a reminder of how stubborn misperceptions can be when they rely on anecdotes or dated opinions alone.

As Ms. Marlowe notes at the end of her piece: “The myth of the ghetto Army is as nastily racist as it is false.”

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