Military Recruits Disproportionate Number of People of Color in Kent County

It has always been traditional wisdom that the military disproportionately targets people of color and those with low-incomes for its recruiting efforts, but it has often been hard to verify this fact with concrete numbers, especially at the local level. However, thanks to a new online tool developed by the National Priorities Project Media Mouse was able to sort through some of the military’s 2004 recruiting numbers in order to verify that in Kent County, people of color are overrepresented in the military. The data, incorporating numbers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Army Reserves gives invaluable insight into local military recruitment efforts.

In Kent County, there were 277 total military recruits (Army, Navy, Air Force) and 52, 118, and 32 in nearby Allegan, Ottawa, and Ionia. In Kent county, people of color were overrepresented in the military at a level greater than their percentage of the population, with 22.9% of Army recruits being people of color, 28% of Navy recruits, and 18% of Air Force recruits while in most branches of the military, Caucasian people are enlisted at a percentage below their share of the population. Interestingly, Native Americans made up 10% of Navy recruits in Kent county despite being only 0.6% of the county’s total population according to numbers from the 2000 Census.

Overall, Michigan ranked 40th in terms of total number of recruits with 4,360 recruits and a recruitment rate of 4.4% (defined as the number of recruits per 1,000 in the 18-24 year old age bracket). In Michigan, there were fourteen counties with recruitment rates over 6% and three counties with a recruitment rate over 10%. The fifteen counties with the highest recruitment rates were predominately located rural counties with child poverty rates above 12% and overall poverty rates above 9%. Nationally, recruits coming from homes with incomes between $25,000 and $55,000 are overrepresented in the military with nearly two-thirds of recruits coming from homes within median incomes below the national average. Households with incomes above $55,000 are underrepresented in the military.

Unfortunately, while the National Priorities Project database does contain some school-by-school numbers, it contains only numbers from the Army. A review of the 2004 numbers found a total of 15 Army recruits from the Grand Rapids Public Schools with 3 from Central High School, 1 from Union High School, 4 from Ottawa Hills High School, 6 from Creston High School, and 1 from City High-Middle School. Two recruits were also drawn from the Job Corps center in Grand Rapids. In the greater Grand Rapids area, there were a comparable number of recruits with 3 at Wyoming Park High School, 6 at Rogers High School, 7 at Northview High School, 4 at Kenowa Hills High School, 5 at Kelloggsville High School, 3 at Grandville High School, 5 at Hudsonville High School, 1 at Jenison High School, 8 at East Kentwood High School, and 2 at Comstock Park High School. It is important to remember that while only numbers from the Army are included in the aforementioned school-by-school numbers, all branches of the military have a recruiting budget of more than $4 billion dollars that is used primarily to target young people via Army simulator vans, video games, tours, free songs on iTunes, and other such efforts. Moreover, in addition to its presence in at local high schools via the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and recruiter visits, the military also frequently visits local college campuses.