Military recruiters target low-income students in the US

In 1973, the United States Selective Service announced the end of the draft, marking the U.S. Military’s shift to an all-volunteer service. Since then, the military branches have relied on recruitment to help fill their ranks. Military recruiters are placed in high schools across the nation to target young people, promoting ideals of power and patriotism. Although subtle at times, these recruitment efforts are present at and around Berkeley High School. 

In the College and Career Center, military recruiters from the U.S. Military academies hold information sessions for prospective recruits. Military recruiters periodically gather outside of the BHS campus, often accompanied by a pull-up bar or exercise equipment. Students may receive brochures and promotional material from branches of the military promising honor and prestige. However, behind this picture of strength and glory lies a reality where military recruitment efforts unfairly target low-income students and students of color. 

According to Prism Reports, American military recruiters disproportionately visit schools from low-income communities, taking advantage of those more in need of the financial benefits offered by the military. Additionally, students in high schools with Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), a federal program sponsored by the U.S. armed forces taught by military officers, are 10 percent more likely to rely on free or reduced lunch compared to those without. Assistance with college tuition, a benefit of at least two years of active duty service, also ends up disproportionately targeting socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Students who may need the financial support that the military is able to provide will be more inclined to join the military, especially women and BIPOC students. 

A Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families survey showed that 62% of female military officers said they joined for educational benefits, in comparison to 53% of the overall military population. For African American and Latine members, 62% and 61%, respectively, said they joined for educational benefits. A 2017 poll by the U.S. Department of Defense also highlights the financial incentive to join the military, finding that 49% of respondents say that the main reason to join the military would be to pay for future education. 44% indicated that the top reason to join the military would be pay or money. Saying the quiet part out loud, Republican Indiana congressman Jim Banks tweeted in 2022, “Student loan forgiveness undermines one of our military’s greatest recruitment tools at a time of dangerously low enlistments.” 

The information of every young person enrolled in public school, whether or not they are aware, is sent to the U.S. Military. This is mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, passed by President Bush, which requires that public high schools provide military recruiters with data on the student body similar to that of which a college recruiter has. Federal law requires school districts to provide student information to the military, which includes names, addresses, and telephone listings. With this data, the U.S. Military has the information to reach students in low-income areas and focus their recruitment efforts on those deemed more likely to join the military. Ironically, most students who interact with on-campus military recruiters are not old enough to purchase alcohol or even vote. 

As schools are mandated to provide student information, schools should acknowledge this disproportionate impact on low-income and marginalized communities, as well as provide students with factual information that doesn’t glamourize the realities of war and serving in the military. Schools must work to inform students of all financial aid options so that students may make an informed decision that works for them and their goals. Targeted military recruitment can be combatted with stronger education on alternative financial options and a truthful, non-propagandized depiction of military service.