Attrition: Changing Ethnic Patterns in the U.S. Army

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September 9, 2006: The half century long over-representation of African-Americans in the U.S. Army is ending. Over the last six years, the percentage of black recruits has fallen from 23.3 percent in 2000, to 22.7 percent of 2001, 19.9 percent in 2002, 16.4 percent in 2003, 13.9 percent in 2004 and 13.5 percent in 2005. Blacks comprise 13 percent of the general population (and 14 percent of the military age population). However, even with the drop in the number of black recruits, the army is still 21 percent black.
Since September 11, 2001, there has been a shift in who is joining the military. More whites, Hispanics and other minorities are joining, but fewer blacks. The war on terror, and especially the war in Iraq, has been unpopular in the Afro-American community, and this unpopularity has been promoted by many black political and religious leaders.
Surveys indicate that fear of getting killed or wounded is also a factor, as potential recruits note that a large proportion of the casualties in Iraq are non-combat troops. So, despite an unemployment level twice that of whites, blacks have been avoiding the army. Recruiting has not been down in the navy and air force, but the army has always been the service of choice for African-Americans. The army was the first service to desegregate after World War II, and has always presented the fewest obstacles for able blacks seeking promotions and career advancement.
There are other factors at play. Educational and employment patterns of blacks are changing. This can be reflected in how well blacks and whites score in the Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. Currently, 60 percent of whites score in the upper half of all those taking the test, while only 26 percent of black applicants do. Increasingly, these low test scores make blacks ineligible for the increasingly high tech non-combat jobs they prefer. Offered only combat jobs, many black recruits decline. And then there are better employment opportunities for young black men in the civilian economy. Couple this, with the anti-war attitudes popular with many high school teachers, and you have a sharp decline. Such a decline was actually long expected, because it was obvious that blacks who could succeed in the military, could do well in civilian jobs as well. That's because the military selected recruits who are above average for those of their age. With civilian job market becoming increasingly competitive, it was only a matter of time before capable black candidates noted that there were better deals being offered by the civilian employers.

 


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