The Poverty Draft

Posted: November 29, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Today we went to Target and to the mall. We weren’t Christmas shopping; we needed some workout clothes for my wife and her grandmother wanted to buy her a dress. The lack of shoppers shocked me. Target showed no signs that today was Black Friday, and the mall barely seemed to register an uptick. I know this didn’t happen everywhere–people were trampled to death at a Wal-Mart in a consuming frenzy–but in Plano, Texas, the richest community in the country, this was the Blitz Day that wasn’t. I wish that I believed the bodyblow to consumerism came from the Buy Nothing Day push. I’m almost 100 percent sure that the shopping no-shows stayed home due to the economic crisis.

The Washington Post today brought to light another of the bad effects of the economic crisis: it’s driving people into the military.

Some of the largest investment firms on Wall Street are gone. The country’s auto industry is on the verge of collapse. Banks are shedding jobs. But in these doom-and-gloom times, there is someone who’s hiring: your local military recruiter.

The economic downturn and rising unemployment rate are making the military a more attractive option, Pentagon officials say. In some cases, the peace of mind that comes with good benefits and a regular paycheck is overcoming concerns about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which any new enlistee is likely to join.

This phenomenon has a name: The Poverty Draft.

The majority of military recruits come from below-median income neighborhoods…We have decrepit schools, bad housing, limited job options and poor healthcare.  Despite our serious needs, the government spends more money trying to convince us to join the military than on basic human needs like education.

The pentagon dropped $13,000 recruiting each person who enlisted.   Compare that to the $1,115 that is spent on education per student,   and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of the government’s priorities.

…They’re promising college tuition, job training, and adventure.

In 2004, 71% of black recruits, 65% of Latino recruits, and 58% of white recruits came from below median income neighborhoods .

What recruiters don’t tell us is that 75% of blacks & 67% of Latinos report experiencing racial discrimination in the military.  They skip over the fact that 1 out of 3 women in the military reported being raped.   They never mention that the college money is difficult to come by- only 16% of enlisted personnel who completed four years of military duty ever received money for schooling.   They don’t say that the job skills they promise won’t transfer into the real world.  Only 12% of male veterans and 6% of female veterans use skills learned in the military in their current jobs.   And of course, they downplay the risk of being killed while on duty.

By the way, that rape statistic cannot be overstated:

Rape is almost twice as frequent [in the military] as it is among civilians, especially in wartime.


Rep. Jane Harman cited Veterans Administration statistics that one in three women in the military has been sexually assaulted. She said the prosecution rate of those accused of raping fellow military service members is abysmally low. Of the 2,212 reported rapes in the military in 2007, only 8 percent of the cases ended in court-martial of the perpetrator, while the rate of prosecution in civilian courts is 40 percent.

Two of the Poverty Draft’s primary recruitment tools are the promise of money for college and training for a good career after military service:

As a Soldier, you can take advantage of the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army College Fund to pay for your college education. Depending on how long you enlist with the Army and the job you choose, you can get up to $81,756 to help pay for college. All you have to do is give $100 a month during your first year of service. If you select the Army College Fund, the total amount is combined with the MGIB.


Many Soldiers use their experience in the Army as a foundation for a career in the civilian world. Depending on your MOS, your training and leadership skills can be easily transferable to many careers like computer technology, communications or law enforcement.

The problem is…you probably won’t get your benefits at all, and the average payout is only 2,151 bucks, hardly enough to pay for college.

Just over half of the veterans enrolled in the Montgomery GI Bill have never seen a penny in college assistance, and the average net payout for all veterans who signed up has been only $2151. Some veterans receive much more assistance but many receive nothing – either because they were ruled ineligible when they left the service or because they are routinely denied benefits even though they are eligible. There is currently a backlog of requests for benefits and the VA (Veterans Administration) which administers the benefits is underfunded and overwhelmed.

And regardless of whether you actually get the benefits, you pay $1,200 dollars out of your first year’s pay to fund the program. Let me repeat: you start off $1,200 in the hole when you enroll, and then hope you fulfill enough qualifications to get benefits to overcome your initial debt.

In addition to the difficulty in getting even a paultry sum to help fund college, you probably won’t be able to use the skills learned in the military in your civilian job:

[O]nly 12% of male veterans and 6% of female veterans surveyed made any use of skills learned in the military in their civilian jobs.

The purpose of the military is to make other people die for their country–if you join the military, regardless of what a recruiter tells you, you will be called upon to kill other people–and possibly other Christians–for the state. If you are a Christian, you will have to choose between your duty as a soldier and your duty as a follower of Christ, because make no mistake, Jesus meant what he said in the Sermon on the Mount:

38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

These are tough economic times, and the military knows that presents a prime recruiting opportunity. But you don’t have to kill to stay afloat–alternatives exist.  And, if you’ve already joined the military but now oppose war and other violence, people want to help you get out.

  1. navycs says:

    The Post 9-11 GI-Bill doesn’t have a $1200 investment.

    The Montgomery GI-Bill wasn’t used to the full extent due in part to the Tuition Assistance Program which pays 100% of your tuition while your on active duty. Some do not use it because they started a family and just entered the workforce after enlistment.

    You really should link out to your sources or are we supposed to have faith you quote the truth…

  2. Female Veteran says:

    “42Give to everyone who begs from you,” – and will our new administration now make it even easier for those who beg (demand) entitlement? – “and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” – Part of the reason our economy is so bad is that no one stopped financial giants like Citi from convincing so many overmedicated veterans that their ‘loans’ would solve our problems. So now we lose our homes in bankruptcy, Citi gets our homes and $300 billion, so where is the justice here, who is the Christian and why is the evil, corrupt, and greedy the winner here??

    There are now more healthy individuals than our military will ever need that have no life or job and we are still supporting them in all the low-income welfare housing projects. Living in a small town there is quite a few 18 year olds (male and female) that are presently enlisting. A few did enlist for the bonuses, what I did find surprisingly delightful are the ones from upper-middle-class families that do want to serve their country while not living off their parents money.

    It would be extremely beneficial to everyone if the young healthy individuals the government has support through welfare since they’re birth could be helped one last time by giving them some direction in their life with military service. It is very disturbing; this large amount of young individuals that believe life is just fine living in and hanging out in these public welfare housing developments. For many this is the only life they have ever known.

    There are extremely too many young, very healthy individuals with no direction in life that need to be directed into becoming a productive member of our society. Since the government and our taxes have already paid to raise these young very healthy individuals since they were born; this alone should make it mandatory for these young minds who have a very narrow concept of life, finally being shown a greatly structured family environment like in our military. This would greatly benefit everyone.

    If someone doesn’t step in and guide these young and bored minds, many more will be lured into the family and money of the illegal drug industry. I’ve watched this happen for three generations now; the history here just keeps repeating itself and keeps the illegal drug industry more profitable than the oil industry.

    A Catholic Christian female veteran who has more than just seen everything you mentioned here, and then some.

  3. stuperb says:

    This post, and the somewhat disheartening comments following it, make me really hope for a civil service option.

    We’d achieve all of the goals mentioned by the commenter above – structure, discipline, service to others, breaking the cycle of hopelessness – while also providing skills and self-confidence that might be useful to the individual once the term of service has been completed.

    Some people will choose to serve in the military over a civil service or corps, like they always have for a multitude of reasons. But it’s sort of horrifying that circumstances force people into committing their lives to the cause of violent service – which dcrowe rightly claims is ultimately what you agree to when enlisting.
    We need an alternative.

  4. dcrowe says:

    Man, I post and go to bed and miss all the fun. I’ll just take these in order.

    Hi, navycs. thanks for stopping by. Every assertion I made above has a link to accompany it. Granted, this site layout makes them hard to see, but they are there. All red text links to other pages. As for the information on the Montgomery GI bill and the required investment, that information comes from, accessed last night. The indented text is copied and pasted. If you can provide a better source on the military’s web presence, I’d be happy to update the post.

    Female Veteran: Hi there! Thanks for the long post, but your post only makes explicit the implicit argument I’ve gone after in the previous post. You said, “this alone should make it mandatory for these young minds who have a very narrow concept of life, finally being shown a greatly structured family environment like in our military,” but that pretty much ignores the assertion that killing in service of the state is contrary to the commands of Christ, and your larger post just confirms the idea of a poverty draft. And it ignores the problem with receiving your promised benefits, and the high likelihood of being discriminated against or sexually assaulted in the military.

    Stuperb: I agree we need alternatives, but they exist already. See the last link. But in the larger scheme of things, we shouldn’t, as Christians, let economic expediency permit the military to target and snatch up our young people into a life contrary to Christ’s most clear teachings.

  5. stuperb says:

    DCrowe: Yes. You said it better than I did, but that’s what I meant. thanks!

  6. […] over at Return Good has an excellent post today about the poverty draft – that, in effect, poor economic conditions […]

  7. dcrowe says:

    One more point, re: what Female Veteran said:

    Accepting public benefits doesn’t obligate you to kill for any state. The laws which provide said benefit contain the obligations on the recipients already. Now, granted, if the law put that obligation on people up front, that would be a different matter. But more than that, that’s what you’re in effect arguing for: replacing public assistance with mandatory military service, filling the ranks with poor people so that the rich don’t have to fight the wars that protect their privilege. What you’re saying is, in effect, that if for whatever reason you cannot afford to feed yourself or your kids, we expect you to die or kill other people for the state in exchange for bread.

    You’re basically arguing the only way a person on welfare is fit to “serve their country” is by military service that violates Jesus’ clearest teachings. That’s patently false. There are plenty of ways to serve people without killing people, even in the very limited context of service rendered on the government payroll. Americorps, The Peace Corps, USAID, etc. But I guess those forms of “service” are for the rich kids, right?

    We should not let ourselves be boxed in to ideas of service as defined in the narrow lines of “government funded service.” Every Christian is called to serve others, but for those that take Jesus seriously, some kinds of service to Caesar are out of bounds.

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