Contrary to popular myth, members of the U.S. Armed Forces are mostly drawn from the middle class, with the lowest income quintile being slightly underrepresented, and the highest quartile being even less represented, with about 17% of enlisted personnel coming from the top 20% of neighborhoods by income. Further, 92% of accessions to active duty have a high school diploma, compared to 90% of adults age 25 and older.
But as representative of the nation as our armed forces are, there are stark regional differences in the makeup of our military, with the South contributing more than its fair share of personnel and the Northeast largely lagging behind, with a few exceptions.
Reviewing a 2016 report from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness titled “The Population Representation in the Military Services” shows that California (17,729), Texas (16,139) and Florida (11,552) had the largest number of people enlist in the military. But these three states are the three most-populous states. Further, new recruits are mostly 18-to-24 years old with about 0.5% of them volunteering and being accepted for active duty each year.
Looking at each state’s share recruits by the number of 18-to-24-year-olds in the state determines how well or how poorly a state is doing compared to its recruitable population. By that measure, the top five states in 2016 were: Hawaii, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Florida. The five places with the smallest share of recruits were: Washington D.C., North Dakota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.
North Dakota is an outlier because the high-wage opportunities created by fracking boom have made recruitment all-but-impossible there.