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Why Latinos Remain Underrepresented in the U.S. Military

A new RAND Corporation study conducts a study for the Department of Defense

Published on LatinoLA: January 27, 2009


Why Latinos Remain Underrepresented in the U.S. Military


Lower high school graduation rates and higher rates of obesity are two of the reasons that many Latinos are denied entry into the U.S. military, according to a RAND Corporation study released today.

Although Latinos do well once in the military, they are underrepresented in all branches of the nation's armed forces, primarily because they often fail to meet eligibility requirements, according to the study.

The U.S. Congress has said that the U.S. military should closely mirror the racial and ethnic makeup of the nation, creating the need to enlist more Latinos. The RAND study examines why Latinos are underrepresented in the military and discusses possible solutions.

"Hispanics who do join the military tend to serve longer and be promoted faster than their white counterparts," said Beth Asch, the study's lead author and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "What is needed are strategies to help more Hispanics meet recruitment standards or recruit more intensively among those who already meet the standards."

The U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines all prefer to recruit youths who have earned a high school diploma. Hispanics, as a group, have a below-average rate of high school graduation. Other factors that often disqualify Hispanics are lower scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test -- possibly due to language difficulties -- and being overweight.

The armed forces could recruit highly qualified Latinos more intensively, but there already is much competition for these candidates from civilian employers and colleges, Asch said. Military recruitment efforts should promote the availability of higher education benefits, leadership opportunities and the chance to serve one's country.

Latino youth with more education, especially those with some college, and non-citizens are more likely to pass weight standards, but enlistment programs that fast-track the citizenship of immigrants serving in the military may be politically controversial.

Researchers suggest the military might be able to recruit more overweight candidates by enrolling them in weight reduction programs while they are in the Delayed Entry Program. Another option would be to relax the weight standards at entry or stratify the weight requirements by job description. One more alternative would be to ease the weight standard while maintaining the strength standards, an option already adopted by the Marine Corps and being tested by the Army.

Some efforts at taking another look at recruiting standards are underway. As part of its Tier Two Attrition Screen, the Army has recruited more lower-quality but highly motivated enlistees -- specifically non-high school graduates -- and begun several experimental programs to allow applicants who are overweight to qualify for enlistment.

Disqualifying factors such as high school graduation rates and low test scores may be difficult for the military to directly influence, because they are shaped by numerous outside influences, from the recruits' parental education levels to family income. However, the military may be able to inspire some potential recruits to complete their education through outreach efforts that emphasize the benefits of being eligible for military service, according to researchers.

The study, "Military Enlistment of Hispanic Youth: Obstacles and Opportunities," can be found at www.rand.org. Other authors of the study are Christopher Buck, Meridith Kleykamp and David Loughran, all of RAND, and Jacob Klerman, formerly of RAND.

The study was conducted for the Office of Accession Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. It was produced in the Forces and Policy Resources Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense Intelligence community.

Originally published in the Rand Corporation Public Newsletter, January 14, 2009
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